Arlene Wehr became one of the first female firefighters to join the City’s ranks in 1996. Fast forward 23 years and she has steadily worked her way through the ranks to become the first female Head: Operations – District West.
Wehr was appointed the head of operations for District West on June 1 2019. She is the first woman to have filled a position at this level since the Fire and Rescue Service was established in 1845, smashing through the proverbial glass ceiling. Originally from Mitchells Plain, Wehr 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 just the latest in a series of firsts for Wehr. In 2004, she became the first female Station Officer in the service and in 2014 became the first female Divisional Commander.
Some of Wehr’s achievements include:
– Receiving a Lifetime Achiever Award from the City in 2016 for her groundbreaking 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 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 which 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,” said Wehr.
The City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, JP Smith, said, “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.”