The appointment of volunteer firefighter Sarah Capon as station officer at Silverdale Fire Brigade is seen as a key moment in the brigade’s 66-year history.
Sarah, who took up the level officer role on June 27, is now the first female fire officer to be appointed on the Hibiscus Coast.
She is one of six female volunteers at the station – this is the largest number of women that the Silverdale station has ever had, making up 15 percent of the total volunteers.
Sarah, 30, says that getting to this position is not just the fulfillment of a long-held dream for her, but a sign that things in the fire service are changing.
It puts her in charge at any incident she attends as well as in charge of the fire truck and her own crew of four. She says there is also more paperwork involved in the role, along with managing aspects of station life including training.
Keeping it in the family, Sarah’s husband Daniel is also a station officer – there are six in that role in total at Silverdale, all with different portfolios and management responsibilities.
After 13 years as a volunteer (eight with Silverdale), during which time Sarah became a senior firefighter, it’s a position she says she is more than ready for.
“I like to do everything,” Sarah says, “From driving the truck, using all the equipment and whatever is required at an incident.”
Since the departure of former station officer Callan Carn-Bennett 18 months ago, Sarah has been in the role unofficially. She says this has shown her how rewarding it is being “in the thick of it” and being responsible for the smooth running of the station and the wellbeing of the firefighters.
One reason she thinks more women have not taken up firefighting is the macho image, but she says times are changing.
“When I first started driving the truck, about eight years ago, people used to do a double-take when they saw a woman at the wheel,” she says. “No-one bats an eyelid now.”
She says the fire service is actively seeking to become more inclusive in its ranks – both within the career firefighters, and volunteers. Recently the first Asian recruit joined at Silverdale. There are a couple of other female volunteer station officers in the wider Waitemata Area, including one at Kumeu and the chief fire officer at Greenhithe.
“It’s hard to be what you can’t see,” Sarah says. “The more of us that are out there, the better. Women firefighters are wanted and needed and can do everything that the men do.”