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Fire Chief Monique Belair continues blazing trails, inspiring change

Monique Belair is used to blazing trails. Not just for herself, but for her community as well.

Starting as early as 16 years old, when her gifted abilities allowed her to graduate high school before her peers, and most recently, when she not only founded the unrivaled Camp Molly, but also became the first female Director of Emergency Services and Fire Chief for the city of Belleville.

The road in between these achievements is not a short one. Belair’s career journey started at Niagara College, graduating in 1985 with a diploma in Law and Security Administration. However, realizing her plan to join the police force would need to be on hold until she turned 21, she turned her sights to the military and discovered the world of firefighting. The Canadian Armed Forces happened to be looking for female firefighters, and Belair found that the training she received through Niagara College provided important skills she could transfer.

She entered the male-dominated profession of firefighting at age 19, as one of only five female firefighters within the Canadian Armed Forces. She arrived at this prestigious position as a direct entry, while most of the men around her had upwards of seven years of military service before landing in the same spot. During her training at the Canadian Forces Fire Academy (CFFA), she noted that some of her male peers tried to intimidate her and make her feel unwelcome. After finding a mentor in an instructor at CFFA, she found how powerful support from a trusted source can be.

“Be prepared to be challenged, be prepared to be empowered and be prepared to change the way you see yourself.” – Vision for Camp Molly

Belair then made it a professional mission to foster female talent within the firefighting industry and provide opportunities for young women and girls to enter the field. Her mission came to tangible fruition in 2019 when she founded Camp Molly, an unprecedented opportunity for women and girls aged 15 to 18 to get hands-on experience in all aspects of fire services. As of 2022, Camp Molly has expanded to service the Quinte West region, Brantford and its surrounding areas, as well as the Oakville Fire Department and their partnerships with Burlington, Milton and Halton Hills to allow girls from this greater area to participate.

As the momentum grows, more fire departments have become interested in running their own Camp Molly each year. Due to this uprise in interest, Belair has created a Board of Directors for Camp Molly, which will provide aid to future iterations of the camp by assisting the local fire service with sponsorships, consistent curriculum, PPE and volunteers to ensure they maintain the vision of Camp Molly: “Be prepared to be challenged, be prepared to be empowered and be prepared to change the way you see yourself.”

Compiling the resources and know-how to make Camp Molly happen is a testament to Belair’s long and distinguished career. After her training at various Canadian Forces Bases (CFB), her first post was at CFB Ottawa, where she became the first female firefighter to ever work in the area. From there she rose through the ranks, wanting to diversify her portfolio and take on roles in all divisions of fire services, such as communications, public education, investigation, prevention and training. She served as Deputy Fire Chief for both St. Catharines and Oakville before climbing the last rung to her current role as the Director of Emergency Services and Fire Chief for the city of Belleville.

Always looking toward the future for her field, Belair’s community involvement is extensive. In addition to her full-time job as Fire Chief and founder of Camp Molly, Belair sits on the board of director for Fire Service Women Ontario, an organization that encourages a more diverse workforce; is a founding member of Socialization of Halton Emergency Responders Ontario, which connects women in police services, paramedics and fire services; and most recently has become a member of the Anti-Human Trafficking awareness campaign committee through the United Way.

Belair named Camp Molly as an homage to Molly Williams, the first recorded female firefighter in North America. There is no doubt that Belair’s legacy will similarly revered in the generations that follow her.

View February 2021 Encore profile: Monique Belair: Firefighter, trailblazer, changemaker