Trailblazing Joanne just one of the girls

August 05, 2017

Echuca paramedics (back from left) Rebecca Ogden, Joanne Kerr, Larissa Anderson

THIRTY years ago, the first female paramedics hit the road in Victoria.

Five years later, Joanne Kerr became Echuca’s and the northern region’s first woman paramedic.

‘‘When I started, there was no women’s uniform so I had to dress in a man’s uniform,’’ Mrs Kerr said.

‘‘It was a strange concept and it took about five to six years to get a proper uniform.

‘‘They even had to build me a new toilet and locker room.

‘‘When I went out on jobs, people used to think I was the wife of a paramedic or that I was a nurse.

‘‘People would even ask me if I was allowed to drive the ambulance.’’

Mrs Kerr said the first five years were the most challenging, with most of her colleagues being older men who had never worked with a female before.

‘‘As long as I could do my job and lift, they were fine,’’ she said.

‘‘I was fit and healthy and could lift my own weight.’’

Mrs Kerr was the only female paramedic for four years until another woman came on board.

Twenty-five years after Mrs Kerr started and Echuca Ambulance Service boasts six women paramedics and numbers are increasing.

Angela Ogden is one of the newest.

Graduating from university in 2015, Angela has worked in Echuca for the past 18 months after doing six months in Castlemaine and volunteering in Rochester.

‘‘I wanted to do something different, get to meet people in the community and make a difference in people’s lives,’’ she said.

She was actually inspired by a female Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance (MICA) paramedic who came to her university and spoke.

‘‘I just remember she was really enthusiastic about the job and excited to be there and made me realise you can go far in the job,’’ Angela said.

Women make up 47 per cent of Ambulance Victoria staff, but this number is increasing significantly with 57 per cent of graduate paramedic applicants being females.

‘‘Most of those in my university course were females,’’ Angela said.

‘‘I really feel like it’s going the other way because there are so many younger female paramedics coming through.’’

Ambulance Victoria last week celebrated the 30th anniversary of women joining its operational ranks.

It followed a 1980s occupational health and safety regulation banning women from lifting more than 16kg in the workplace precluded women from working various jobs in Victoria.

‘‘It’s unimaginable to think this rule existed,’’ Angela said.

‘‘I don’t feel disadvantaged in any way and get to do the same things as the men do. It’s much more accepted now.’’

Angela said she loved the challenge her job provided and the rewards it offered for making a difference in her community.

‘‘It’s a great career because it’s so flexible and a friendly workplace,’’ she said.

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