During World War II, with many men away serving overseas, a number of women stepped in to non-traditional roles to support the war effort.
Women were trained to carry out fire fighting duties all over New Zealand. Almost without exception these women were from various divisions of the Women’s Auxiliary services such as WWSA (Women’s War Service Auxiliary), W.A.A.C (Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps).
Under the WWAS women volunteered for fire warden duties in Christchurch, and staffed Wellington Fire Station watch-room and canteen. In Auckland, five women worked out of Auckland Central Fire Station, attending fires, running out hose, driving appliances to fire calls, testing extinguishers and fire alarms, and checking on fire wardens in the city.
One of these women, Dorothy Garland recalls:
“People used to line up to watch us reversing the appliances. They didn’t think we could do it because we were girls. But we did it, every time. We could run out 100 feet of hose in 25 seconds” (Dorothy Garland, 2007)
The above information and images were provided by Nella Booth and may not be reproduced without her permission.
In 1943 Dargaville Volunteer Fire Brigade formed New Zealand’s first all-female Brigade with 11 members of the W.W.S.A. responding to calls.
Members included: H Hartnett, B Haines, C Haden, E Meiklejohn, P Richards, R Wilkinson, Phyllis Danks, I Baird, Olive Potts, P Jones, N Newport.
One former member, Ruth Brown (nee Wilkinson) wrote in later years, ‘We trained once or twice a week running out the hoses from the engine and the water hydrant. When the siren went my father brought my bike from the back shed and off I pedalled like mad down the hill to the brigade headquarters. Often it was only to find the alert was just a rubbish fire.’
The 1960s saw the formation of at least two female daytime brigades.
The first in the post war period was in Ahipara in Northland, where in 1964 a shortage of men to attend calls during the day, prompted local women to from Ahipara Fire Party.
Ten women actively trained in the Fire Party, their ages women ranging from 30 to 61.
They had their own Chief, bought their own khaki overalls to serve as uniforms and ran their own practices.
In 1968 A group of housewives joined the local Brunner Volunteer Fire Brigade (Dobson on the West Coast of the South Island) as operational members, forming a day time crew.
The original group was Nora Bernard, Joyce Creagh, Sue Logan, Jean Lunn, and Catherine Smith.
Most of the women were over 50yrs of age and served for about seven years.
These women made a significant contribution to the local Brigade, but despite lobbying from the Brunner VFB at the time, the United Fire Brigade’s Association (UFBA) refused to acknowledge their service.
The UFBA would not give them the service honours they had earned with the rationale being was that ‘it was considered inappropriate that women should be fulfilling the traditional fireman’s role.’
» PDF Download: A history of women in the Brunner Volunteer Fire Brigade
» PDF Download: Christchurch Star Article – Brunner VFB Women
The 1970s brought significant change. Women were increasingly turning out for short crewed brigades, and they were being employed by brigades in watch rooms and communications centers.
At this time the women of the Piha Volunteer Fire Brigade, attended fire calls, but they did not have uniforms as women were not officially allowed to join the Brigade.
In 1970, Hastings Fire Brigade employed Vanessa Beattie as a watch-room attendant, reputedly the first woman to be employed in this role in New Zealand.
Brunner VFB sought to have the service of their female members recognised by the United Fire Brigades’ Association (UFBA), tabling the motion at the UFBA conference in 1972 to enable women to be recognised as members of brigades. The remit was lost, and the following year it was resubmitted by the Matamata VFB. Again the motion did not pass. It was stated that it “was considered inappropriate that women should be fulfilling the traditional fireman’s role”. Brunner VFB tried again in 1975, and the UFBA sought a response from the NZFS Commission who were adamant that there was no place for women in Fire Services.
In 1979 a slightly altered remit was again submitted to the UFBA, and this time it was passed – the service of female firefighters was not recognised by the UFBA.
1979 was also an important year as it was the start of one of New Zealand’s landmark gender equity battles. This was the year that fire communications centre worker, Anne Barry applied to join the NZ Fire Service as a career fire fighter.
Anne was initially rejected for not meeting the height requirements, but it soon became apparent that the real reason for rejection is because she is female. Anne took the NZ Fire Service Commission to the Human Rights Commission in order to have the opportunity to train as a career fire fighter.
A number of women compete for the first time in New Zealand at a provincial United Fire Brigades Waterways Competition – Tokomaru Bay, East Coast.
Sapper Jan Graham of the Royal New Zealand Engineers becomes the NZ Army’s first full time female firefighter.
Anne Barry wins her 2yr battle with the Fire Service Commission and is allowed to apply to join the NZFS as a career fire fighter.
Elizabeth England and Anne Barry complete the NZFS recruit course, with overall placings of 2nd and 3rd respectively, becoming New Zealand’s first female career firefighters, and the first female career fire fighters in Australasia.
Julie Croswell and Nella Booth become NZ’s 3rd and 4th female career firefighters respectively.
Christine Hewson became the New Zealand Fire Service’s first female Chief Fire Officer (CFO) when she was appointed as Chief of the Lake Hawea Volunteer Fire Brigade.
Christine had served in the Brigade since May 1979. She rose through the ranks becoming Station Officer in 1989. She was appointed CFO when the incumbent DCFO and Third Officer declined the office of CFO in favour of Christine.
The introduction of the Community Safety Teams (CSTs) into the Fire Service, while contentious at the time, introduced a significant number of women to paid firefighter ranks.
Dame Margaret Bazley is appointed chair of the New Zealand Fire Service Commission.
Allana Ranui is appointed New Zealand Fire Service’s first Maori female CFO, for the Murupara Volunteer Fire Brigade.
Alison Timms is appointed action Chief Executive of the New Zealand Fire Service, holding the position until 2001.
Rosemary Higgins becomes New Zealand’s first female 25yr Gold Star recipient. She joined the British Fire Service since 1959, and upon moving to New Zealand in 1975, she joined the Hamilton Fire Brigade in the Communications Centre. She was the only uniformed woman in Hamilton for nearly 17 years. When she retired from the Communication Centre, she joined the Pauanui Volunteer Fire Brigade.
A group of career female fire fighters met in Auckland to discuss the possibility of setting up a support/ network group. Many topics were discussed over the two days of the meeting, and one out come was the formation of New Zealand Fire Service Women (NZFSW).
Melanie Horne becomes the first woman to win the top recruit award. The same intake had the largest number of successful female recruits up to that time with four women passing.
Rochelle Martin (Auckland) becomes the first woman to be presented with the NZFS Sports Council Sports Person of the Year Award for representing New Zealand in Women’s Rugby.
Katherine Pocock (Auckland) is presented with the NZFS Sports Council Sports Person of the Year Award for her efforts in Surf Lifesaving and Kayaking.
Rochelle Martin (Auckland) earns for the second time the NZFS Sports Council Sports Person of the Year award for representing New Zealand in Women’s Rugby. Only one other person has also received the award twice.
Angela Munro (Auckland), NZ Fire Service wins Toughest Firefighter Alive at Firefighter Games in Hong Kong.
Ange Munro (Auckland) wins the Women’s section of the National Combat Challenge in Fielding. She then went on to Canada and qualified for the National Canadian competition, which she completed with the fastest time of 2min 15 sec.
Rochelle Martin is appointed as the New Zealand Fire Service’s first female career operational firefighter to hold the rank of Station Officer (SO). Between 2008 and 2015 the number of women appointed to the rank of career SO rises to six
CFO Maera Anderson from the Murupara VFB is awarded the national ‘Pride of New Zealand’ Emergency Services Award, for serving the community for 26 years in the Brigade, and single-handedly reviving neighbouring Kaiangaroa VFB which was about to fold due to declining numbers.
Rochelle Martin is appointed NZFS’s first female career Senior Station Officer (SSO).
The same month at the 2015 UFBA Conference in Wellington a remit is passed allowing the service of any women in a Brigade prior to 1979 to be recognised and any service honour due to be awarded.
New Zealand Fire Service Women (NZFSW) is reformed as Women in Fire and Emergency New Zealand (WFENZ).
March QFF Anne Cairns wins the 2015 New Zealand Fire Service Sportsperson of the Year, having participated at a national and international level in surf lifesaving, sprint kayaking, white water rafting and ocean surf ski racing. Anne is a double international representative, having competed for both New Zealand and Samoa. She has been chosen to represent Samoa in kayaking at the 2015 Rio Olympic Games.