Where There Is Smoke

Profile of female fireghter

An audio installation of work stories by female firefighters

In 2017, Fire Service Women Ontario approached Red Dress to engage professional and volunteer female firefighters in a creative exploration of their work.

Where There Is Smoke is the result of the Women Firefighter Visibility Project — a series of 12 arts workshops for women in the field. Thirty women from Toronto, Hamilton, and Waterloo, Ontario, participated and shared their experiences through writing and recorded interviews.

Did you know that 3% of Ontario firefighters are women?

With careers spanning one to 25 years, their stories are the heart of this piece, which takes us into their communities and fire halls. They provide a wide range of perspectives on camaraderie, training, and of being one — or a few — amongst many.

“I Come From”: A video poem by female firefighters

Transcript of video poem
[Sirens ringing]

— I come from the click of the mic and the run to the truck
— I come from training

[Overlapping voices]

— I come from
— I come from
— I come from

— I come from calls made and alarm bells sounding
— I come floor squeegees and shammies
— I come from bunker gear and halogens
— I come from a halogen bar
— I come from 10 codes
— I come from sirens
— I come from wheel chocks and PTO switches
— I come from a quote/unquote ‘fireman’
— I come from playing the piano to putting out fires
— I come from the chaotic sound of a portable pump and breathing in its exhaust
— I come from a large loud red truck
— From every dent and broken light on the trucks before I got there
— From untangling hose line and feeding it though the front door, then finding my crew in the smoky dark
— I come from lugging that paddle pack off the truck through three levels of parking garage
— I come from training relentlessly to be as ready as possible to do the impossible
— I come from gym equipment
— I come from pumping iron
— I come from the cutters and spreaders balanced on my hip like the way I held my child
— I come from ill-fitting uniform pants and wearing the same bra and underwear for 24 hours
— I come from independence
— From the shadows during a fire
— I come from strength
— From the colour red
— I come from determination
— From the station via the truck
— I come from I never give up and push yourself to the limit attitude
— From a love of climbing
— I come from the kitchen table banter and mopping floors
— Pots and pans rattling over air brakes and cleaning
— A powerful firehouse family
— Running to the next unknown
— I come from voices and laughter
— I come from a moment of muted quiet into the noise of everything
— I come from being one of the first women, to paving the way for other women
— I come from small numbers
— I come from Tracy’s big boots
— From Jen Pool’s old bunker gear and the comfort I felt the first day I put it on
— I come from a strong group of women
— I come from my fire service idol
— I come from my mentors
— I come from Laura McQuade
— I come from Brenda Bergman
— I come from Jocelyn, Michelle, Rose, and Paula
— I come from Sandra, Renee, Audrey, and….
— From the first female firefighter hired in Scarborough
— I come from all women in my class
— We are firefighters
— I come from me
— I come from a belief that I am more than where I come from

Funders and partners: Fire Service Women Ontario, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council, Toronto Professional Firefighters’ Association, Workers Arts & Heritage Centre