CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Cedar Rapids firefighters opened the station doors to young women last summer as a way to get more interested in firefighting. The hope was some women would even consider it as a career.
Molly Duckett (left) helps a new participant in the Young Women's Fire Academy in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. Duckett attended the fire camp last year and is the first of the young women to land a paying job at a fire department. (Dave Franzman/KCRG-TV9)
And as the second Young Women’s Fire Academy starts in Cedar Rapids this week, there are some signs the plan is working.
Organizers describe the week-long fire camp for women ages 15-21 “fully involved.” The young women don protective gear, practice rescue techniques and will even climb an aerial ladder truck later in the week. And the idea is to get more women fully involved in thinking of firefighting as a career.
Nationwide, only about 3.5% of firefighters are women. With two women added in the last training class, Cedar Rapids Fire is now approaching seven percent.
Captain Cheme Fairlie, one of the five women on the department who launched the program last year, said it all began when they wondered what might inspire young women.
“It’s actually what started this. The five of us, women firefighters, got together and talked about what we would want if we were younger,” she said.
Molly Duckett of Solon, who returned this year as a student leader, is leading the class in another way as well.
She goes to Des Moines next month to start a year-long paramedic program. And she just got hired by the Ankeny Fire Department as a paid, on-call EMT.
That makes her the first participant in the original Women’s Fire Academy class to get a paid job with a department.
“I don’t have much fire experience because this will be my first job. But saying I’m helping with this (fire camp) and I have done this—peaks people’s interest,” Duckett said.
Duckett says after a bit more experience, she can see herself coming back and applying for a job at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department.
Camp leaders say others who attended last year, or are here for this week’s camp, may be thinking the same thing.
Patience Duval, a high school junior, has a few more years to think about it. But seeing a fellow camper land a paid job with a department has some people wondering why not me?
“I feel like definitely the new girls coming in are saying oh, I like that and if she can achieve it I can too,” Duval said.
And for some of the campers, if they do become professional firefighters, they’ll say it probably started at camp.