By Nancy Nais
BEING a female firefighter is tough, but Lacey Elizabeth Stanley has proved herself to the community and disproved the prejudice that women are weak.
The 37-year-old from Kuching is the first female dog handler in the Fire and Rescue Department’s canine (K9) unit in Malaysia.
She bravely entered the world of firefighting in 2003 as a recruit and reported for duty in the K9 unit in 2004 where she has stayed until today, standing side-by-side with the men who were already there.
After 13 years being the solo female K9 handler, two other female firefighters, Avlyanie Moidy, 21, and Loresty Didacus, 20, joined the unit as dog handlers.
Avlyanie is based in the main K9 unit at Old Klang Road while Loresty is in Sabah.
As a pioneer in her line of work, Lacey has faced all challenges with pride as she loves her job.
“There is no difference in terms of training for men and women firefighters,” she told DayakDaily.
Together with her furry buddy Rory, an English Springer Spaniel, they have been working as a team to assist in fire investigations for seven years.
The friendly and hyper four-legged fire investigation expert was one of the dogs responsible for finding the cause of the tahfiz fire that killed 23 people in September last year.
“To be a dog handler, you really need to have a lot of patience and discipline. For both of us, we usually assist fire investigation officers to find the cause of fires,” she said.
From Lacey’s expression as she relates her story and her experiences, it is obvious she has a lot of love for her dog as she spills about his mischievous but smart behaviour.
The best memories for Lacey are all the cases which both of them successfully helped to solve.
“Rory is a very active and playful dog. Sometimes it is hard to take him seriously, because all he wants is for me to play with him, pet his black and white fur or pull his ears. He loves playing in the mud too. He is a very happy-go-lucky dog but definitely well-trained.
“But one thing for sure, regardless of what the occasion, whether it is a real life operation, daily training or just play time, he listens to my commands and we are literally best friends.”
Lacey also shared about the sad side of being a firefighter or a K9 handler.
“There are times when I have to coax Rory because he is unhappy or unable to perform his work. So I’ll pet and play with him more to boost his morale,” she said as she laughed at the recollection.
“There were many occasions where we faced sad events at work that made me so heartbroken and troubled. If my emotions start to overtake, I can feel like I am unable to perform my best,” she said, citing the recent tahfiz fire that killed 23 people, most of them children.
“I struggled. I cried but I had to be brave for my job. So I told myself to focus as Rory and I must complete our work by finding the cause of fire.”
As a mother of two, Lacey is also faced with dividing her time between work and family.
She loves her job tremendously. Therefore, most of the time, her priorities are at work.
The hardest part is when she has to leave her children behind and not knowing when she’ll go home. This is something which all firefighters have to deal with.
As she spoke fondly about her work, tears also started to flow freely from her eyes.
“When we go out for operations, we don’t know what will happen to us. While we are out there saving lives, we don’t even know if we can come back to see our family.
“Majority of us here in the Kuala Lumpur K9 unit come from East Malaysia. Some of our families are back home, while we are here working. However, I am also fortunate to be surrounded by family members and friends, near or far, who are always there to support me.
“I also tend to depend a lot on my new colleague Avlyanie, who is also my good friend. We will spend our free time together, working hand-in-hand and taking care of each other,” she said, before taking DayakDaily for a tour around the unit. — DayakDaily