Where There is Smoke is an audio and video installation featuring women firefighters’ stories of standout and workaday moments from the community and the fire hall; a multi-dimensional portrait of career and volunteer firefighters with a diverse range of experiences and perspectives on camaraderie, fire science, training, and being one (or a few) amongst many. The latest audio iteration also includes stories from women and non-binary firefighters working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2017, Fire Service Women Ontario approached Red Dress Productions to create an art project — The Women Firefighter Narrative Visibility Project — that would engage women firefighters in discussions around their work and experience in the fire service. RDP artists facilitated storytelling and creative writing workshops with 35+ women firefighters in Hamilton, Toronto, and Kitchener-Waterloo in Ontario.
The 20+ hours of audio footage gathered at these workshops was edited and shaped by RDP artists to create an audio and video immersive exhibition that premiered at the Worker’s Arts and Heritage Centre in 2018. Since then, followed by installations at the In Situ Festival (Mississauga), Gallery 1265 (Scarborough), Doors Open Hamilton, and a number of Firefighter conferences across the country.
The newest iteration of Where There is Smoke, a 25-minute audio podcast that incorporates stories and experiences from women and non-binary firefighters on the front lines of the COVID pandemic, garnered in 2 online creative workshops with firefighters across Canada.
Where There is Smoke disrupts any assumption of a single narrative of being a woman firefighter and highlighting stories of an often-overlooked group within the service. Women represent about 3-4% of firefighters in Canada.
By making space for these stories that intersect labour, art, and equity, we hope audiences consider notions of community service, who does it and how it is done; and, the generative nature of socially engaged storytelling and media making as a model for equity-building, and creating institutional culture shifts.
This work has been made possible thanks to support from Canada Council for the Arts “Digital Originals,” and operating support from Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council.
Storytellers: Adina Kaufman, Allison Ryckman-Chisholm, Amanda Brazil, Amber Bowman, Bev Bradley, Brooke Penticost, Danielle Alosinac, Dara Douma, Emily Abernethy, Gillian Guthrie, Jenn Dawkins, Jenn Gordon, Jess Clermont, Julie Petruzzellis, Lindsay Hamilton, Lydia Wilcox, Maggie Dort, Mary Hindle, Patricia Youn, Pike Krpan, Rita Di Cesare, Rose Saunders Wilson, Shirley Salay, Stacy Hannah, Traci Cairns, and TJ Robbins.
Lead Artists: Anna Camilleri and Tristan R. Whiston
Associate Artists: Wy Joung Kou and Aidan Morishita-Miki
Audio Editor: Tristan R. Whiston
Additional Editing: Anna Camilleri, Wy Joung Kou, and Aidan Morishita-Miki
Installation Design and Video: Anna Camilleri
Video Lighting and Technician: Katie Yealland
Video Cast: Patricia Youn, Julie Petruzzellis, and Gillian Guthrie
Original Music and Composition: Lyndell Montgomery
Producer: Red Dress Productions
Partners: Fire Service Women Ontario and Workers Arts and Heritage Center
Funders: Canada Council for the Arts, Ontario Arts Council & Toronto Arts Council
“I Come From”: A video poem by female firefighters
View installation photos on Flickr