A shy 19-year-old girl walked into a volunteer fire department, a vague dream of police work formed in her young mind. The physical aspects of firefighting lured her, as well as the chatter of neighbours already involved in keeping the community safe.
It was the first fire that did her in.
“I fell in love with it,” explained Stacy Lee.
Nearly a dozen years later, she’s honed her craft beyond her early expectations.
Lee started with Sidney fire in January 2001. She’ll spend the balance of 2012 and beyond as a career firefighter with Vancouver Fire and Rescue.
What she’ll miss most?
“The guys. Sidney’s got a great group of guys who are welcoming and willing to help out,” she said Friday before hopping on a ferry to start her new job Monday.
“The calls don’t hurt,” she added with a grin. “The training is exceptional. You feel pride when you do courses and can say ‘we do that.’ We’re well advanced in our training.”
Guys are all that remain at Sidney fire. Lee was the sole female firefighter on the roster.
“I see myself as one of the guys and the guys are really good about treating me as one of the guys,” she said. “I don’t jump on the truck thinking guy/girl. … I’m one of the firefighters. It’s a great feeling.”
Lee says she’ll be among a one per cent female portion of the roughly 800 person Vancouver department.
“Sidney’s loss is definitely Vancouver’s gain,” said Sidney deputy fire chief Brett Mikkelsen. “Stacy’s been an integral part of our team for the last 10 years.”
The skills that make her an asset for a professional department, are a credit to the work of the volunteer department, say Mikkelsen and Lee.
“We can graduate somebody, that’s a feather in our cap,” Mikkelsen said. “It reinforces that what we’re doing here, we’re doing it well.”
Throughout the long hiring process – which includes a written, full medical and fitness tests, as well as two interviews, one in front of a panel – she’s been complimented on her strong skills developed at Sidney fire.
“The town has done a really good job providing great equipment and afforded us great opportunities for training,” Mikkelsen said. “We can help people, but we can’t do it for them. Stacy’s put in the time and effort.”
Friday she stopped at the Third Street hall for a photo or two and some goodbyes before starting her new position Monday.
“I think everybody here saw something [in me] I didn’t see,” she said, looking to her left. Lee’s eyes focused on the truck in the next bay, with the yellow 904 identifying it. “I remember standing out in front of 904 at midnight, a group of us, laughing until our guts hurt.
“It’s people looking out for you. It’s hard to explain that bond.”