South Africa appoints first female firefighter after 174 years
Arlene Wehr has been appointed as the first Cape Town female firefighter to fill a position at operation level in the city’s fire service. This is the first time a female would serve in this postition since it was established in 1845.
Wehr, originally from Mitchelles Plain, joined the Fire and Rescue Service in 1996. According to the City, she was said to have quit her desk job in a private sector to pursue her passion for serving others.
Wehr, appointed as the operations head for District West in the city effective from June 1st, is in charge of the following directions stations: Sea Point; Brooklyn; Cape Town (Roeland Street); Hout Bay; Salt River; Epping; Constantia; and Wynberg.
These are the key areas which cover the Table Mountain range and industrial areas, which have created sporadic factory fires.
Also, part of the district to supervise is the Cape Town train station, which has been crippled by numerous fires where train carriages were either set alight or struck by electrical faults.
Her relatives, who are already a co-worker in the service, inspired her.
“When I started work, I was one of the first females to do so. There were two others ahead, and one had quit by the time I joined. There were many ups and down in what was then a male-dominated environment, but I managed to turn it into opportunities and I steadily worked my way to the top,” she said.
During an interview with the Tygerburger in 2016, she recounted how being a firefighter mom had been an issue, even while on operational shift during her pregnancies.
“I used to refrigerate my breast milk. It was something new for my husband, but he was supportive,” she told the newspaper.
Prior to this appointment, she became the first female station officer in the service in 2004. Also, in 2014, she was the first female divisional commander.
She has also been honored with a lifetime achiever award from the City for groundbreaking gender equality work. Also, she has been appointed to a two-year tenure as the vice-president of the South African Emergency Services Institute.
Wehr said it’s been a long journey for her, but hoped her achievements would inspire other young women to break their barriers.
On her task, she said her district was “well-run”. However, there were developments to be made.
“We have also got technology which is changing a lot. So where I can develop, I will definitely ensure it’s done alongside my team and to help the staff to deliver a better service to our community,” she said.
The City’s Safety and Security mayoral committee member, JP Smith, commended Wehr for her hard work and hoped it would inspire others.
“It is not an easy task, but it can be fulfilling and Ms. Wehr has shown that it can be a rewarding one on various levels,” he said.
“She has written herself into the City’s history books, with determination and humility, unwittingly blazing a trail for others to follow,” he concluded.