Up until 2007, sport consumed Jo-Anna Kenney’s professional life, on and off the field, until a colleague sparked her interest in becoming a firefighter.
Debuting in 1999, Kenney represented South Australia 41 times, but it was in the backyard with her brother and other kids from her suburban neighbourhood of Highbury that first exposed her to the game.
In High School Jo-Anna played tennis up until year 10, but it was there that a teacher managed to get her to switch codes.
“One of my teachers was trying to get together a girls’ cricket team for the first time and told me ‘If you can hit a tennis ball, you can hit a cricket ball’. I joined the team and it led me to start playing club cricket, before being selected in the Australian Youth squad,” she recalls.
Studying to be a teacher, the underpaid nature of state female cricket led Jo-Anna, likemany of her teammates, to search for full-time work. She was lucky enough to land a Game Development role with the South Australian Cricket Association.
“Cricket gave me a lot of opportunities in terms of full-time work, which I loved,” Kenney said.
She spent five years at the SACA, before joining the Australian Sports Commission, working in Sports Development for two years. It was there that the fire service caught her eye.
“A colleague had applied to the fire service and missed out, so he was telling me about the process and asked if I’d ever thought about it. I hadn’t at that point, but as I looked into it the fact that it kept you active in a team environment appealed to me,” she said.
Jo-Anna then embarked on a two-year training program for the vigorous five-step process to become a fire fighter. It included theory, fitness and practical tests, including written exams, holding a hose under pressure and an advanced beep test.
Jo-Anna passed with flying colours and eventually joined the Fire Service in 2007.
She is now currently a senior firefighter, training to become a station officer, a position which will put her in charge of the truck, strategy and decision making when her team are called to an incident. Another round of interviews and test lay in front of Jo-Anna.
“Becoming a leader of the group means you can have an influence over the direction of where they head. I think it’ll be a great career move for me,” she explained.
It’s a major step in her career, in an industry, which she argues, lacks women representation.
“There can be more women in the fire service. It’s a lot about exposure, which we’re seeing now with a lot of female sports. When I was at school I never saw female fire fighters. The sessions we now do at schools is really cool and having a young girl come up and say ‘I want to be a firefighter’ at the end of one of those sessions is really exciting.
“It’s just a matter of opening young women’s minds and letting them know it is a career option. Things are changing and we are getting more females apply, which is a great thing,” she said.
Kenney has also put her duties to another use, joining 12 fellow ‘firies’ last year in a 1100km ride from Adelaide to Melbourne over nine days, on their way to the Firefighter Stair Climb with their MFB counterparts.
“We stopped by local stations along the way to help with their fundraising, while raising around $21,000 for the Murdoch Children’s Research Unit. We then climbed 28 floors of stairs in firefighting gear, which amounts to about 27kg in extra weight,” she said.
Nine years of firefighting and a career standing behind the stumps has taken its toll on Jo-Anna’s body, so she recently accessed an ACA Personal Development Grant, to help her with the expenses attached to physio treatment and health care.
“The grant has helped a lot, both financially and physically. It’s allowed me to get those sore parts of my body seen to, which is vital in my line of work,” she said.
Following retirement, Jo-Anna stayed involved with the game as much as she could, helping out young South Australian wicketkeepers. Still a keen supporter of women’s cricket, she has been excited to see the game come leaps and bounds.
“If you had have told me when I was playing that you’d be able to travel and play for a few months of your life, I probably wouldn’t have even been able to imagine that. I’m just happy that the girls now have those opportunities,” she said.