Hailing from around the country, 37 female firefighters have gone through intensive psychological and physical training to become ready to join their male peers in Istanbul.
The Istanbul fire brigades are celebrating their 307th anniversary. But it is the season of a first: it is the first time that female firefighters have graduated along with their male peers in Istanbul. Fit, healthy and motivated, they cannot wait to serve the public.
Leyla Kaya is 25. She knew she wanted to be a firefighter very early on: “I am a graduate of Cankiri Karatekin University’s Firefighting Department,” she says. “I have always felt an attraction to the vocation,” she adds, “I wanted to follow up upon graduation with the job I was trained to do.”
“I am a firefighter now,” she says, with a hint of pride in her voice, at the graduation ceremony held at Cebeci Sports Complex in Sultangazi, Istanbul. She says she trained to be a firefighter for six years, with two years before her university and four years at the university.
“I worked at the Mercedes Aksaray truck factory as a firefighter, too,” she adds, “before I was assigned to this job.” She says that she used to work for the private sector, and will now work for the Istanbul Municipality.
“My family is in Agri, I used to live in Agri beforehand,” she confides, referring to the city in eastern Turkey. “It is very difficult for me, with them so far away. I wish they were here today to see me,” she says. “I told them to look out for me on TV.”
Nurdan Nalcakar is also 25. She says she was studying for the KPSS, the exam to be a public servant in Turkey, when she was pregnant with her child and was at home. “Becoming a policewoman, a firefighter… These were vocations close to my heart,” she tells TRT World. “I chose to become a firefighter and I won the exam.” She says they were trained for five months, and now are celebrating their graduation. Her child is now two years old. Her siblings, her entire family live in Istanbul.
Asked if she is happy about having become a firefighter, she says she had some trepidation at first, when she first joined the brigade. “Some of my colleagues had been studying to be a firefighter since high school, since college. They were more knowledgeable than I was. I had studied to be a nutritionist,” she shares.
“But when I joined, I realised that there were a lot of security measures in place to ensure the safety of firefighters. I no longer have that fear. I believe I can do a good job.”
Asked whether she feels out of place in a male-dominated field, she says it’s not like how it looks from the outside: “It’s totally based on teamwork. What my male colleague can’t do, I will do. What I can’t do, my male colleague will do. It’s a job for a team. No one works alone, I can say that much.”
Nurcan Degirmenci is 24. She found out about a job opening at the fire brigade through the internet and thought she was a good fit. “I applied, I took the tests, I won. I am thrilled,” she says. She tells TRT World that she came from the Black Sea region to Istanbul, from Trabzon. “It was a difficult process, coming from a faraway city to Istanbul to start anew, but I got through it allright,” she adds. “I am reaping what I’ve sown today. I am very happy.”
Her family still lives in Trabzon, while she has moved to Istanbul for her job. As for working alongside her male peers, she says at first everyone questioned whether women could do it. “But when we started the applied courses, we proved them wrong as ‘the girls,’” she smiles. “I cannot thank my friends enough, we fought together, with perseverance, with determination, which allowed us to become good firefighters in every sense of the word,” she gushes, excited to have broken through the glass ceiling.
Emine Terzi is 27, and decided to become a firefighter “suddenly!” she says. “There were ads, I applied, – I had studied something completely different, something that had nothing to do with firefighting: electric electronic engineering,” she says. “There were exams, written exam, applied exam, parkour exam, I succeeded, and while it was something I knew nothing about honestly, it became a big passion for me when I became a part of it,” she adds.
“I cannot describe my happiness here today,” Terzi says. “My parents, they live abroad. My husband lives back in Trabzon, his work is there. Is it difficult [to live far away from loved ones]? Maybe, but there is no difficulty that can’t be overcome if one puts her heart into it,” she adds in her excitement.
Asked about being part of the first group of female firefighters in Istanbul, Terzi muses that there is nowhere that a woman cannot succeed if she puts her mind into it: “A woman makes any environment more beautiful, and she can adapt to any environment she wants to,” she comments. She refers to her time in university as an electric electronic engineering student: “There were maybe ten of us [women] in the entire class of 100. So I’m used to it. I believe women can achieve anything. They can be doctors, nurses, engineers, and now firefighters, too.”
Hakan Karabulut, 44, works as Istanbul Firefighters Education Centre Deputy Director. He says he was working at Marmaris during the forest fires, and was directing the operation of “Baby Elif” who was rescued alive (link in Turkish) from the rubble of the Izmir earthquake 65 hours later. He has been working in the profession for 16 years, the last two being in directorial work.
He describes the work he does as ensuring the orientation of scores of students from all around Turkey. Afterwards, he says, they tell the new recruits about the unity and solidarity of firefighters, motivating and readying them for the job. “Then the training starts. We offer both physical and psychological training. The psychology of the job is crucial to us because if someone’s psychology is not at its highest level, you won’t get good results from them. That’s why motivation is our top priority,” he says.
“After motivation, comes vocational skills training. We present the training as races and games, such as football matches, volleyball matches. The students do not race against each other but they race to improve themselves,” Karabulut explains.
“We had 37 female candidates this year as a first,” Karabulut says. “Some had studied computer engineering, some had studied space engineering, but had decided to become firefighters. After the motivational training, we ensured that they had the physical training to be able to do anything that their male peers were able to do. Just as we won’t allow anyone to discriminate against them because they’re female, we also won’t allow them to do any less because they’re female. I believe we succeeded in providing them with the proper training to be good firefighters,” he concludes.