Female City of Cape Town fire fighter breaks glass ceiling
City of Cape Town fire fighter, Arlene Wehr, has become the first female head of operations in District West. Wehr was appointed Head: Operations – District West, effective 1 June 2019. She is the first woman to fill a position at this level since the fire and rescue service was established in 1845, smashing through the proverbial glass ceiling. She was also one of the first female fire fighters in the Cape Town's ranks in 1996. Wehr, originally from Mitchells Plain, joined the Fire and Rescue Service in 1996, giving up a desk job in the private sector to pursue her passion for serving the community. She was inspired by relatives who were working in the service at the time. “When I joined, I was one of the first females to do so. There were two others before me and one had left by the time I joined. There were many challenges in what was then a male-dominated environment but I managed to turn these into opportunities and I steadily worked my way through the ranks. It's been a long road but it's one that can become a career. This is a calling and one for which you must have the passion and the heart. I enjoy serving the community and developing staff to improve service delivery. I hope my achievement will inspire other young women to join the service,” said Wehr.
The new position is but the latest in a series of firsts for Wehr. In 2004, she became the first female station officer in the service and in 2014 she became the first female divisional commander.
Some of Wehr’s other achievements include:
• Receiving a Lifetime Achiever Award from the City in 2016 for ground-breaking gender equality work
• Being appointed to a two-year tenure as the vice president of the South African Emergency Services Institute in 2019
• Planning and leading City of Cape Town delegations to numerous World Firefighter Games competitions and World Rescue Challenges
In her new role, she is responsible for eight of the City’s fire stations that fall within Area West, namely Cape Town (Roeland Street), Sea Point, Salt River, Epping, Brooklyn, Hout Bay, Constantia and Wynberg.
“It’s a well-run district but there are improvements to be made; we’ve also got technology which is changing a lot, so where I can improve, I will definitely go out and work with my team to make things better for staff and also to develop the staff to deliver a better service to our community,” added Wehr.
“Arlene Wehr should be applauded for her hard work and the success that has come from it. I hope it will encourage many more women to consider the Fire and Rescue Service as a career. It is not an easy job but it can be fulfilling and Ms Wehr has proven that it can be a rewarding one on so many levels. She has written herself into the City’s history books, with humility and determination, unwittingly blazing a trail for others to follow”, said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Alderman JP Smith.
But Wehr says it wasn't easy. “This is a male-dominant environment and breaking through this glass ceiling of hundreds of years, wasn't easy. There were lots of times where I applied for the position but didn't get it. But I went back again. Not pushing to be the first of everything but just the achievement to get there. To show other females they can make a career in the service.”