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New fire chief for Whistler

Sheila Kirkwood promoted to top job after 25 years with Whistler Fire Service



The New Year will welcome in a new fire chief for Whistler.

After 25 years as a firefighter in the resort Sheila Kirkwood will take the top position at the end of December with the retirement of fire chief Rob Whitton.

Kirkwood will report to Norm McPhail, Whistler's new general manager of corporate and community services.

"I have spent many years working with Sheila on public safety and emergency services matters and look forward to her continued leadership, and the experience she will bring as fire chief," said McPhail, who was formerly with Whistler RCMP for 11 years.

Kirkwood was out of town at the time of the announcement and unavailable.

Said Mike Furey, RMOW's chief administrative officer: "Sheila brings extensive experience in firefighting work in Whistler and has been a core team member and leader over many years."

Whitton announced in July that he planned to retire early in 2014 and move to Nanaimo with his wife. The RMOW hired Whitton in 2002 as an assistant fire chief. He was promoted in 2007 to the position of fire chief.

Through a news release announcing Kirkwood's appointment Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden thanked Whitton for his years of service.

She added: "I am also proud of the fact that Sheila was the first female assistant fire chief in B.C. and is now one of the first, if not the first, female fire chief in the province."

Tim Pley, the president of the Fire Chiefs' Association of B.C., said Kirkwood joins five or six other women who currently head up small fire departments at locations across the province.

"She's certainly the chief of one of the larger departments to have a female fire chief," said Pley.

Pley said he was in Whistler in 2010 during the Olympic Winter Games and he worked with Kirkwood at that time. He said she is highly regarded both inside and outside the Whistler Fire Rescue Service.

"I think she'll do very well there," he said.

The number of female fire fighters is growing, said Pley, adding that he expects more women will be hired into fire chief positions in the future.

"I think everybody brings a different skill set than the next person regardless of gender," Pley said. "The more common inclusion of women in the fire service has changed us for the better. At the chief officer position I think she's going to have an opportunity to be a role model for other young women and female fire fighters."

The president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, Stephen Gamble, said he didn't know Kirkwood, but her appointment is positive news.

"I think this will be great for recruitment and retention right across Canada," said Gamble from his Langley office. "It gives another showcase of leadership for women that are considering entering the fire service."

Kirkwood marked 25 years with the fire service in Whistler earlier this year and for the last 15 years she held the title of assistant fire chief. Headlines were written about Kirkwood previously when she was named the first female assistant fire chief in B.C. and back in 1989 when she became the first full-time female fire fighter in the province at the age of 24.

She started fighting fires in 1986 when she joined the Whistler department as a volunteer.