Firefighter poses for calendar to raise money for sick kids
By Carol Mulligan
The downtown Sudbury fire station is quiet this weekday morning as firefighters ease into 24-hour shifts with physical training and housekeeping until a call comes in. When it does, they will drop everything, slide down the pole, jump into their trucks and race off to fight smoke and flames.
Sudbury’s only active female professional firefighter has time to chat, but warns she could be interrupted at any moment by the call of duty. (There is one other female firefighter with the service who trains fire personnel but doesn’t respond to blazes.)
Darcie Merrill isn’t particularly interested in talking about herself, even though she blazed a trail for women. She made history 13 years ago as the first full-time female professional firefighter in Northern Ontario after two years of volunteer firefighting in Valley East.
Merrill is keen, however, to promote the 2019 Firefighter Calendar, a major fundraiser of the Sudbury Professional Firefighters Association Benevolent Fund. The calendar is published every other year and the newest edition will be released in early September. The 2019 beneficiary is Northern Ontario Families of Children with Cancer. Children of two firefighters have been stricken with cancer and recovered. Merrill, 38, is the mother of two, a daughter two-and-a-half, and a son, seven, so the cause is dear to her heart.
Merrill doesn’t see her job as out of the ordinary. People who catch a glimpse of her in full gear at a fire are invariably amazed. “A lot of places I go, it’s, ‘Oh look, there’s a girl.’” Merrill is amused by the reaction.
While she may stand out in a crowd of men, Merrill is one of the gang at the fire hall.
“From the beginning, I’ve never had any issues with anyone or anything,” Merrill says of her male-dominated profession.
She didn’t join the service to make waves or try to change the male order. She became interested in the profession when she was a teenager. Her boyfriend’s father was a firefighter and the teens visited at his station.
Originally from Orangeville, Merrill knew during her first year at Laurentian University she wanted a career in which she would be active. She almost quit school but, at her mother’s urging, completed a degree in sports administration before following her dream.
Merrill has responded to hundreds of structure and car fires, and pulled people who have perished out of the rubble. On this day, Merrill is assigned to drive the ladder truck when a call is received. Then she will get behind the wheel as her colleagues suit up on the back.
“Fires are all different,” says Merrill. Firefighters can arrive at a fire that isn’t billowing with fire or smoke or find a structure engulfed in flames.
When asked if fear is a factor on the job, Merrill says, “There’s always that. It’s your adrenalin.” Firefighters have the confidence of knowing they have been trained well, can leave the scene if it is unsafe and never have to enter a structure alone.
“We rely on each other for our lives, which is what it comes down to,” says Merrill.
She regards her co-workers as family. “They’re my brothers.” She enjoys the dark humour often present in her workplace. “We can sit around and joke about things most people wouldn’t…that’s how we decompress.”
Merrill, who appeared in the services’ 2011 calendar, began training hard in January in advance of a June photo shoot. She worked with a personal trainer, cut carbohydrates from her diet and lost 30 pounds. Around the 20-pound loss mark, she noticed a difference in the way she could climb stairs wearing her firefighting gear.
Not surprisingly, “Miss September” has been the subject of good-natured “razzing” from her colleagues.
“They joke around that I lost all this weight and I’m going to pull the rip cord; that I’m just going to start eating everything and gain all the weight back. That’s the big joke.”
She is somewhat scantily clad in the calendar, as are all firefighters, so the thought of posing that way was incentive to stick with her weight loss regime.
Jayson Swain is trustee for the Sudbury Firefighters Association Benevolent Fund and head of the calendar committee. The calendar is the biggest money-maker for the fund whose mandate is to help those less fortunate in the community. “The need is endless,” says Swain. “Everybody has a different story.”
Calendars cost $20 each. Look for the 2019 Firefighter Calendar on Facebook.