For years, the volunteer fire department has been a “boys’ club” in nearly all the rural outport communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. The men of the community signed up, under the guise of protecting and serving the residents of the community, but instead it became a glorified headquarters and cesspool for vulgar, chauvinistic undertones that are obviously still evident.
Throughout the province, the local fire hall, in many cases, also serves as the gathering ground for most of the community’s socialites: doubling as the local pub, since the liquor licence is on full display and masked by the title of a “fundraiser”; dartboards are in full force and getting pinned with action through the shouts, cheers, swears, insults and drunken stupors of the local party boys, and perhaps seeing as much action as a miniature Vegas casino with the Texas Hold ’Em game happening in the corner where someone just won half of the EI cheque from a guy up the road, meaning his family would be a little more hungry this week.
This environment, evident likely not only in Spaniard’s Bay, but in fire brigades and communities throughout this great province, has gone on too long. It’s encouraged an attitude of chauvinistic male culture, and unfortunately isn’t a fantasy thought up by stereotypical meanderings, but rather proven to be reality because one woman had the strength and courage to speak up and say “no more.”
How many fire departments throughout this province are in similar cultural crisis, and don’t even realize it? How many are receiving provincial and municipal government funding for equipment and supplies while not bearing the capacity or capability to even respond to an emergency should one arise?
Only in Newfoundland and Labrador would we allow our rescue headquarters to be a bar, and have all of our rescue workers at a weekly “meeting” be half in the bag and incapable of dousing a candle with a garden hose, let alone saving a family from a burning house fire.
It’s time the government starts regulating and keeping up on the status and conditions of our local fire departments. They’re vital and crucial to our communities and should be treated as such. Brave men and women shouldn’t be subjected to situations that make them uncomfortable. They’re there to save lives, not have a party.