Africa

Tanzania’s female firefighter braves raging flames

As the world prepares to mark International Firefighters’ Day on May 4, Pili Kaku inspires women to join male-dominated field

Kizito Makoye   | 03.05.2022
Tanzania’s female firefighter braves raging flames FILE PHOTO

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania

When Pili Kaku began training to become a firefighter, she was the only woman in her course.

“I always knew that I wanted to be in the fire and emergency services and was lucky to be recruited,” she told Anadolu Agency.

For many years, the firefighting profession in the East African country of Tanzania has been perceived as a man’s arena, and many women were hesitating to join. But this perception did not deter Kaku from following her heart.

Kaku, who considers firefighting a calling that involves saving lives, said her decision to join Tanzania’s Fire and Rescue Force was inspired by her desire to help people and serve humanity.

"Being a firefighter is not only about putting off raging flames. I am working with the community and I have the duty to educate them," she said.

Gender gap

While gender imbalance in the workplace is still a big problem that affects many people working in emergency services, an army of brave women like Kaku is making a bold move to quash it.

"As I woman, I am capable of working as a firefighter like men do," she said.

According to her, the recruitment process entails numerous tests on mechanical reasoning, situational judgment, and behavioral sciences.

"I was asked to do many tests to prove my physical fitness, and I am supposed to maintain the fitness levels throughout my career," she said.

On her typical workday, the 32-year-old Kaku, who has been a firefighter for eight years, quickly assigns her colleagues to rush into a burning building and plans how they confront the blaze.

“As a leader, I have to use my senses to make the right decisions within the shortest period of time,” she said.

Kaku, whose desire for rescuing others had led her to climb a leadership ladder to the heart of the extraordinary world of firefighting, urged women to join the profession.

Extraordinary courage

From scenes of devastation and crisis to quieter moments when she questions herself, Kaku’s story highlights the extraordinary courage of a woman in a male-dominated profession.

Gifted with empathy, Kaku always pays attention to the grievances of the people she has rescued or those who have lost property.

"Firefighting is a challenging job. When I listen to the woes of fire accident victims, it motivates me to work even harder,” she said.

She said the level of discipline and the manner in which firefighters save lives and property attracted her.

"I was afraid at first, but the skills I have acquired over the years chased away the fear," she said.

Despite her smaller physique, Kaku is determined to perform like any other firefighter.

As a fearless firefighter, she said her career is defined by not only life-threatening experiences but also by the courage she has gained.

"Male colleagues in my department are surprised how I manage to lead them," she said.

Kaku said in order to rise to the top of a great career as a firefighter, one needs to look beyond gender.

“Many women don’t consider a career as a firefighter because they know in the back of their mind it is for men. That’s wrong,” she said.

Good example

Bashiri Madhehebi, the deputy commissioner of Tanzania’s Fire and Rescue Force, said Kaku has set a good example for other young women to join the field.

Madhehebi said the organization has made massive reforms in shaping its rescue team, adding female firefighters have a better chance to do well in the male-dominated profession.

"I am always inspired to see her going to the frontline to fight blazes without hesitation," he told Anadolu Agency.

While the ladder to success is often tougher for women to climb, Madhehebi said they are increasingly taking on leadership roles in emergency services.

"Gender doesn’t determine competence. Our greatest strength is our ability to work as a team," he said.

For Kaku, firefighting is a job like any other. It offers the pulse-racing excitement of responding to a blaze, tightens the bond of friendship that develops among firefighters, and also gives the pride of knowing you provide a critical service to your community.

“I am trying to motivate other women to join the fire services. Our department has created an equal opportunity for women. There’s no reason why anyone should hesitate to come in,” she said.

With all its risks and challenges, firefighting has strongly motivated Kaku to build a successful and fulfilling career on equal footing as men.

"If you are thinking of becoming a firefighter, know that there are many ways to be a good firefighter, and they don’t necessarily require you to be male," she said.

However, Kaku said the job might not be the perfect fit for women who are naturally afraid of heights or confined spaces.

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