For Erin Gladstone, a chance encounter with a female firefighter sparked a career change, which she had never considered before.

Now, more than four years into her role as a firefighter for the Hastings Fire Station, Senior Firefighter Erin can't imagine life without it.

Yet, she is part of the minority. Five per cent of career firefighters in the region are female and 15 per cent of volunteer firefighters are women.

It is something which Fire and Emergency New Zealand is actively trying to change.


Its latest recruitment campaign, which will launch on February 4, aims to address a lack of diversity - including the lack of women - working within the organisation.

"We want the best people applying to reflect diversity in our community and right now we are not getting that," Hawke's Bay area commander Ken Cooper says.

Last year they had 45 people apply, six of whom were woman.

And that was a record number of female applicants, none made it through the first round.

"I think personally, for the best job in the world, that is a really low number and clearly with only six woman applying, we have got a problem," Cooper said.

They have two permanent and paid positions available, and while no preferential treatment will be given, he would like to see a diverse range of applicants apply.

"We are not focusing purely on women, it is the best person for the role. However, we need to have a wide variety of people applying in order to select the best people," Cooper said.

"I think the problem is around the awareness of what we do and the perception of the role."


He said many women didn't see it as a career or thought all they did was running into burning buildings.

"That's a part of our role, but it is not a significant part ... we also do a lot of medical calls, rescues, and educate youths about fire safety. It is a diverse career.

"We say that our job is a team environment. We have a mixed bag of skills within our team; we've got some firefighters that are good at educating, some at influencing, some are really fit, but combine them together and we get a really solid team."

FENZ Hawke's Bay assistant area commander Glen Varcoe shared similar sentiments, noting they needed to be an "accurate representation" of the community "in what we look like and what we act like, otherwise we will never connect".

To encourage more people to apply, the Napier station will be open to the public on January 23, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm - the first of several informative sessions, running through the application and testing process.

Napier senior station officer Jamie Nichol says it is an opportunity for people to look around the station, ask questions and run through the initial online assessment.

A ladies only night a week later, on January 30, will have a Women in Fire and Emergence NZ (WFENZ) representative speaking on the support available for females within the organisation.

"The applications close on March 4, and the actual testing won't start till mid-March, so by March 6, they would have gone through the whole process with us," Nichol said.

It is this support which Erin found invaluable.

"I think if you like a challenge then it is fun. Each stage you go through you have to give it everything you've got. There's no difference for females. Knowing that I passed along with the other guys was rewarding for me because I knew I've got what it takes."

For more information contact
Upcoming sessions:
January 23 (6.30pm to 8.30pm): Opportunity to ask questions, discuss the career and what firefighter's do. Then a discussion on how to fill out the initial assessment.
January 30 (6.30pm to 8.30pm): Ladies only night: discussion on the importance of a diverse workforce. A WFENZ representative will their role and the support they can offer.
February 4: Applications Open
February 7 (6.30pm to 8.30pm): Candidates will have the opportunity to practice the cognitive test and see how it works, as well as become familiar with some of the equipment.
February 20 (6.30pm to 8.30pm): Candidates can run through the full PPT test, seeing what areas they need to work on.
March 4: Applications Close
March 6 (6.30pm to 8.30pm): Practical Assessment (PAC) focuses on communication, team-working and communication skills.