Women in Towing: Fabiana Ireland

When Fabiana came to Canada from South America at the age of 12, she never envisioned that she would eventually become a firefighter, the owner of a towing company, and a heavy-duty operator.

by Meaghan Reimchen and Iva Kestrankova

Fabiana’s journey into the towing industry began in 2000 when she married James Ireland. She started in the business as an office administrator and dispatcher for a local towing company where James worked as a heavy-duty operator. Over time, Fabiana’s role evolved, and in 2017, the couple leveraged their extensive industry experience to start their own heavy-duty towing business, Rescue 51 Towing & Recovery.

Beginning with a single wrecker in Essa, Ontario, an hour’s drive north of Toronto, James managed recovery operations while Fabiana took the helm of administration and dispatch. As their business expanded, and the volume of calls increased, it became apparent that Fabiana and James would need to hire someone to help them operate their wreckers. However, as in the rest of Canada, skilled operators are hard to find, so they eventually chose what would become an obvious solution; Fabiana transitioned into a heavy-duty operator herself.

Initially, the idea of Fabiana operating a heavy-duty wrecker was considered a joke. However, after careful consideration, the couple decided that this was actually a no brainer. Fabiana, as well as her husband James, had worked for many years as volunteer firefighters, so Fabiana already possessed her commercial driver’s licence, which would make the transition into driving a heavy-duty wrecker much easier.

Originally published in
Tow Canada,  September-October 2023

From day one Fabiana received unwavering support from her husband, who recognized her potential and has always encouraged her to advance her skills and overcome her uncertainties. According to Fabiana, James was the reason she initially got involved with the fire department, and he was also behind her decision to join the towing and recovery industry. “The only reason why I stopped being a firefighter was because it got to the point where I had to choose if I am going to respond as a firefighter or as a heavy operator with my husband, and I chose my business,” said Fabiana.

Three years after Rescue 51 Towing & Recovery opened its doors, Fabiana got her own 20-ton tow truck—a 2008 Kenworth fitted with an NRC wrecker that was originally mounted on their first-ever company truck, a 1989 International. She still operates it today, alternating with the company’s flatbed and emergency response unit. Sometimes she even assists James in operating the controls on their rotator when needed.

"The challenge might not always come from co-workers or other tow company owners but from customers who are unaccustomed to women performing this role.”

Fabiana vividly recalls her first towing job, when she towed a school bus. Adrenaline and fear coursed through her veins, yet the sensations of uncertainty and hesitation dissipated as she successfully completed the task. Throughout her journey, as many times before and after, she received her husband’s support and reassurance, motivating her to overcome any personal doubts or challenges she was experiencing as a new heavy-duty operator.

Fabiana admits that learning how to operate a 20-ton wrecker has not been the only challenge she has faced while working in a male-dominated industry. She shared memories of feeling intimidated when interacting with male peers in tow yards or repair shops.

For instance, she recounts a trip to Sault Ste Marie (in northern Ontario), where she faced condescending attitudes from local operators who questioned her skills just because she was female. “I had about six guys standing over me while I was trying to hook up,” Fabiana recalled. “They were telling me what I should be doing differently in a condescending way instead of asking me if I needed help.” Fabiana is certain that she would be treated differently if she were a male.

Despite an increasing number of females in the industry, Fabiana believes that the overall attitude towards women in towing, particularly in heavy-duty towing, is changing slowly. Her presence continues to raise numerous questions and eyebrows among those who see her behind the wheel or at a recovery scene for the first time. However, those who have worked with her in the past have adapted to the idea of her as a female tow professional, and they seem to embrace her as an equal partner.

Fabiana Ireland, heavy-duty owner and operator, Rescue 51 Towing & Recovery

“[The change of attitude] won’t happen overnight. There will always be that one person who questions you,” said Fabiana, adding that the industry’s response to female operators is not always the only issue. “The challenge might not always come from co-workers or other tow company owners, but also from customers who are unaccustomed to women performing this role. Change takes time, but it will come.”

Supporting Fabiana’s competence is her Level 6/7 WreckMaster certification, and she has been awarded Student of the Class twice. Fabiana and James share the belief that quality training is crucial. It simplifies the job and also enhances everyone’s safety. They have organized and participated in multiple WreckMaster courses, and actively engaged in cross-training with firefighters and other first responders. Recently, they even organized Hybrid and Electric Awareness Training to address gaps in electric vehicle safety handling and storage education. This session, scheduled for mid-August, was quickly sold out, with 80 participants including paramedics, firefighters, and tow truck professionals.

Both Fabiana and James view joint training for first and second responders as vital in preparing them to address various emergency situations on the road. “Cross-training is highly significant and should be incorporated as another tool in the toolkit,” said Fabiana. “Familiarizing yourself with the fire department and collaborating with them can be a life-saving experience for everyone involved, including the public.”

Fabiana and James are highly respected within their community and are recognized by regular viewers of the popular TV series Heavy Rescue: 401. They have been featured in numerous episodes of the show, which showcases the challenges of vehicle recovery on Ontario’s Hwy 401 and other 400-series highways in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). While the show is criticized by some within the industry for its focus on dramatic scenes and not reflecting the true nature of the profession, Fabiana values its impact on raising public awareness about the hazards of the job. “The show makes people step into our shoes, helping them understand what we do and how dangerous it can be,” said Fabiana.

Fabiana believes that the industry still does not receive the respect it deserves. “Just like any other industry, we have a few bad apples, but most of us are hardworking family members who tackle physically and mentally demanding tasks at any time of day or night, in all weather conditions. Give us an opportunity to prove ourselves as true professionals.”

With almost 25 years in the industry, Fabiana’s passion for towing has grown, and she continuously pushes her personal boundaries to advance her skills and become a role model for others. One of her favourite things that bring her joy is the expression on children’s faces as they see her drive by and when they signal her to sound the air horn. “Another favourite aspect of being a female in this industry is that I may inspire young girls to give any male-dominating job a chance,” she said.


Fabiana Ireland was awarded Student of the Class by WreckMaster lead instructor, Jeff Martin.

Fabiana also extends a supportive attitude to their daughter. “She can achieve anything she sets her mind to.” Following in her parents’ footsteps, she is currently pursuing education in paramedicine and aspires to become a firefighter. In fact, both of Fabiana’s grown-up children are involved in the industry, aiding with recovery jobs when necessary.

And to shine a spotlight on women in the towing industry—whether they are behind the wheel, in the office, or contributing to the success of the industry as a whole—this fall Fabiana is assisting Tammy Vandenheuvel, director of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario (PTAO), in organizing the inaugural Women in Towing Appreciation Luncheon during the 25th anniversary of the association’s Tow Trade Show. As far as we know, this is an industry first in Canada, so once again Fabiana is helping the industry break ground. 🍁