For the first time in Vancouver fire department’s 135-year history, there’s a woman in the position of fire chief. Chief Karen Fry is new to Vancouver Fire Rescue Services, having been chief of the Nanaimo fire department previously. She spoke with CTV Morning Live about her first week on the job and the road ahead.
The transcript of the interview has been lightly edited for easier reading.
CTV: How is the first week going? Do you feel pressure as the first woman in this job?
Fry: I feel like a new recruit. I’m learning everything over again. I get to learn everything new about the Vancouver fire department, I’m trying to get out and meet as many of the crew and other city employees, and it’s pretty exciting. They’re welcoming me. I’ve got no anxiety about it, I’m feeling very positive.
CTV: What’s your top priority for the city of Vancouver?
Fry: First and foremost is to get through COVID, that’s number one. I think following (city) council’s strategic priorities and then ensuring that our fire service is ready to prepare and carry on with the safest city, protecting lives and saving property. We’re going to (do) that with training and accountability and health and wellness inside our own department so we can look after those in our community that may be suffering.
CTV: You talk about safety, and a recent report shows that Vancouver is operating with fewer firefighters than there were in 1986, and that’s despite massive growth in the city, more calls, the opioid crisis, and hiring has stalled because of the pandemic, but how quickly do you plan to address staffing?
Fry: Staffing is one of my priorities. City council did adopt a plan that came out from a study – and you’re exactly correct, staffing levels are low, especially compared to previous years and other cities that are similar to us. As soon as we can get through this crisis right now, it’s going to be my priority that we continue with the growth so that we can protect our city and not burn out at the same time.
CTV: Only three per cent of the fire department are women, and the department has a bad reputation when it comes to complaints made by female members, what needs to be done to change the culture?
Fry: I haven’t gotten into meeting many of the staff yet, but just like anything it’s going to be one of my top priorities. So far, when I’ve been out in the halls, it's been fantastic and it’s going to be my key message and it’s all about accountability at all levels, from myself all the way down to the first person on the job, I'm going to have the same expectations for how we treat each other. The role of a firefighter working in a fire department is tough enough and we need to be able to support each other and lead each other in a more supportive and kind manner.