Where There Is Smoke

Still photo of video projection of WTS video on a brick wall

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.

Credits


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

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


Photos

View installation photos on Flickr

Installation History

  • Live Listening Party co-presented by Red Dress Productions and the Workers Arts & Heritage Centre, Online, Jan 2021
  • Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs Annual Symposium, Calgary, AB, September 2019
  • Doors Open Hamilton, Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, May 2019
  • Gallery 1265, University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus, December 2018
  • In Situ Festival. Mississauga, ON, November 2018
  • Fire Service Women Ontario Professional Development Symposium, Waterloo, ON, October 2018
  • Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, Hamilton, ON, June 2018