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Deryn Rizzi: Navigating the competitive world of fire service

Deryn Rizzi has served just about every role possible in her 18-plus years as a member of the Vaughan Fire & Rescue Service.

Ironically, Rizzi recalls a conversation with her first captain, who told her she’d never drive a fire truck. She eventually did just that before working her way further up the department ladder. She would eventually serve as deputy chief and then fire chief, beginning in June 2018.

Rizzi is quick to point out those old perceptions have certainly changed over time. Those old attitudes, along with the rewards of the profession and other topics, were discussed during a conversation she had with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner in Quebec City.

“It’s for people who love to serve their community,” she said. “I really believe firefighters are a special type of people; they’re very Type A personalities, but they also really enjoy interacting with people.”

Firefighting: A Rewarding, Competitive Profession

A former teacher before deciding to apply for the fire service, Rizzi was one of 19 department hires in 2001 – out of some 2,500 applicants.

Firefighting is a profession that remains competitive. In Vaughan, the service’s last round of hiring saw “about 16 or 17” hires out of 1,481 applicants. Therefore, Rizzi says those interested in becoming firefighters must not only attend a pre-fire service college program, but also have a backup plan, such as going into a trade or studying to become a paramedic.

That said, she is quick to add those who are interested need to be persistent. For example, in her own recruit class, she recalls a classmate who tried for 10 years to get in.

Vaughan Leads the Way for Women Firefighters

That advice seems to be paying off particularly for women in Vaughan. The number of women firefighters in the service, Rizzi is proud to say, is currently at 10 percent. By comparison, the national average is three percent. Additionally, 10 percent of the department’s captain positions are also female.

“I’m very proud of that because it means there’s not that glass ceiling – we don’t stop. We just promoted our first acting district chief, who is a female, and I believe that might be the first district chief in all of Ontario,” Rizzi said. “I always say, females haven’t been in the business long enough, so we are starting to be there, and you are starting to see the movement in these roles.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in the article: Developing and supporting unity champions within municipal government. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

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