Trailblazers wanted: Women of the UAE sought to fill firefighter roles

Sharjah became the first emirate to hire 15 female civil defence members last month

Academic firefighting director Sylvain Theriault of the Emirates Civil Defence Academy at the Careers UAE 2018 event at the World Trade Centre in Dubai.
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High school pupils and more women are being encouraged to sign up for an advanced diploma in firefighting and consider a career in the sector to fill fire-crew vacancies.

The Emirates Civil Defence Academy is hoping to attract new recruits at a careers fair aimed at nationals at Dubai World Trade Centre.

Last month, Sharjah became the first emirate for more than 40 years to welcome female firefighters into roles usually reserved for men.

In February, 15 UAE nationals were enlisted into the first Women’s Firefighting Unit at Sharjah Civil Defence, but more could now follow.

Most government departments, the armed forces, airlines, airports and the hospitality industry were also hoping to cast their net and recruit new Emirati talent from around the country.


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Civil Defence trainers have reported an increased interest from women to enter the fire service, and are considering women only courses to encourage more to view the industry as an attractive career choice.

The intense heat of summer and high rise buildings may make the UAE a challenging place to work, but it is also hugely rewarding according to Sylvain Theriault, the firefighting director at the Emirates Civil Defence Academy.

“It is a challenge to recruit in the UAE, particularly when 80-90 per cent of people living here are expatriates, and we are trying to attract nationals,” said Mr Theriault, who has spent 22 years in the fire service – working in Canada as an airport fire chief before coming to the UAE three years ago.

“We’ve adapted the course to match the environment, and the summer heat is a big factor in the training. During the hottest months we will train the recruits at night.

“We teach students how to try and stay cool, as it is very hot wearing the protective equipment.

“Physical fitness testing is a major part of our course, with military marching and regular evaluations.

“It is incredibly demanding, and one of the most challenging environments for fire service personnel to operate in.”

The ECDA is a training facility in Al Awir that is part of the Directorate General of Civil Defence – Dubai.

It is specialised in fire, safety and firefighting sciences and offers a diploma that can become a gateway to begin a firefighting career.

Training in the UAE has been developed from the UK model, with amendments to include the diversity of fire safety in the region’s intense environmental conditions.

Course are also amended to incorporate the need for high rise firefighting, with much of the training evolved from the lessons learned during 9/11.

Training is flexible so students can opt for a part time option – with courses taking from 18 months to complete.

“Since some of the emirates have been recruiting more women to take on Civil Defence roles, we have seen a big interest from more women looking to get qualified,” said Mr Theriault, who is Canadian.

“We’ve been asked about running a female only course, and judging by the interest we’ve had, it would be very popular.

“The job is not just about strength and fitness, it is also about thinking in difficult situations and resolving problems under pressure, women are very good at that. They are better than men at working smarter.

“If a woman is trapped in a building or vehicle, it is sometimes preferable to have a woman handling that situation so we welcome more women to become trained up for jobs in the fire service industry here in the UAE.”

Jobs and apprenticeship schemes were being widely offered at the fair.

ENOC has forecasted 150 vacancies to be offered onsite, with 100 positions available for manpower requirements, 20 from their graduate development programme and 30 from their technical training programme.

Majid Al Futtaim has exhibited at Careers UAE since its launch in 2000, and views the event as a platform to meet capable young professionals.

“Leadership is no longer defined by age or experience,” said Mouien Al Madhoun, Chief Human Capital Officer, Majid Al Futtaim Holding.

“Globally, we are seeing a paradigm shift in how we assess talent, as individuals seek to move away from ‘doing a job’ to playing a meaningful role in the growth of an organisation.”