It’s a male-dominated profession, but that’s never bothered Toni Alexandrow. Sara Coen spoke to the leading firefighter about swapping the classroom for a fire truck.
Growing up near Thredbo and attending small schools in tiny country towns may have given Toni Alexandrow the sense of community she so admires in the fire fighting industry.
The 36-year-old is a leading firefighter with Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting, part of Airservices Australia – and the only woman in her crew at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport. However a life in emergency services wasn’t always on the cards.
Toni graduated from ACU’s Canberra Campus in 1997 with a Bachelor of Education. While she enjoyed being in the classroom, she felt that her real passion lay elsewhere.
While teaching in Queanbeyan NSW, she began volunteering part-time with Jerrabomberra Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, and was hooked.
“I enjoyed every minute of my time at the station and was instantly drawn to the sense of comradeship that I felt with the other volunteers. We became like a family.”
Seeing her dedication and enthusiasm, and her efforts in fighting the 2003 Canberra bushfires, Toni’s crew leader suggested she take up fire fighting as a full-time profession.
So she bumped up her training schedule, passed the gruelling physical and aptitude exams, and in 2005 was accepted into Aviation Rescue and Fire Fighting at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.
“There are 85 aviation rescue fire fighters at the airport, consisting of seven crews,” Toni said.
“I am the only woman in my crew but that’s really just a reflection of the fact that fire fighting is a male-dominated profession. Being the only woman really has no impact on my role at all, and I don’t actually think about it very much.”
The crews work two 10-hour days, two 14-hour nights, followed by four days off.
“We’re the first response team for any aviation incident, fire alarm or first-aid cases at the airport, so each shift is different,” Toni said.
“That’s why I love the job, it’s always active and always varied. The shift work is nothing to complain about either. Having a four-day weekend means that I can go away, travel back to Canberra to visit friends and family, and achieve a work-life balance that I may not have in other jobs.”
Toni said a typically quiet day would consist of daily inspections on fire trucks, routine equipment checks and performing training drills.
“I’m also involved in training new recruits which is where the teacher in me really comes in handy,” she said. “While serious emergencies are rare, call-outs tend to come in waves. We are either extremely busy or extremely quiet.”
“But it’s the perfect job for me, and I’ll be sticking with it for as long as I can.”