BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Across the country female firefighters are a rarity, and it’s no different in Kern County. But this weekend, women will don turnouts and try out the career as KCFD tries to recruit more into their ranks. Last week I got a taste of what it entails.
By the time photojournalist Juan Corona and I arrived at 7:30 in the morning, the men at station 42 had been up for hours. “At this house, three to six wakeups a night is what you get,” says Alfredo Acosta, a probationary firefighter. When we spoke to him, he’d been on for nine 24-hour shifts in a row. “I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was 15. You get here, it’s always something different. And everyone here wants to help people and help each other.”
Regardless of how many times they were called out overnight, the morning starts with equipment checks, making sure they’re ready to go for the next emergency. Which doesn’t take long. We’ve only been back from a call-out for a car crash for a few minutes, when we’re off to a medical emergency. In this case, the woman they were called to help, has already passed away. They shift into the role of comforter, offering sympathy and help contacting the right people. It’s not a job for the faint of heart. It’s taxing emotionally, mentally and physically.
“We have women that are firefighters, and they are great firefighters, so why don’t we have more? We’ve noticed that it seems as if when we do our testing we don’t have as many women that are coming to apply for the fire department. When we talk to the different counselors and colleges and others it seems as if it may not be on many women’s radar. And we’d like it to be,” said Andrew Freeborn, public information officer for the Kern County Fire Department, on why they’re offering this weekend’s training camp called, “Inspiring Women Through Opportunities.”
KCFD gave me the chance to see what women will experience at the camp on Saturday, June 4. I suited up in turnouts in the 95 degree heat. The gear itself weighs about 30-pounds, including the self-contained breathing apparatus. As I dragged out the hose, the firefighters instructed me to run, which wasn’t happening. Next, the breathing mask went on, before we crawled inside a c-train in a simulated victim search. It was tough to control my breathing, and that’s without the adrenaline of an emergency. But I made it back out without passing out or throwing up… I’m calling that a win.
I also got to experience what it’s like to work with the Jaws of Life. The tool weighs about 45 pounds. With some help I learned what it’s like to pry open a car door, crushed as if in a crash. It’s heavy, just like the responsibilities of this job.
“We have had several women come through recently and I see them working harder to prove themselves, and they don’t necessarily have to, but I see it. And they are as strong as or stronger than half to three-quaters of the men in that academy,” said Deputy Chief Butch Agosta. He says he thinks the more women who join the ranks, the more it will inspire young girls to consider firefighting as a career.
One woman is set to start the next KCFD academy, and there are three more female firefighters currently in the ranks, one of them a helicopter pilot. And KCFD hopes this weekend’s camp will inspire more women to new heights. You just have to be 18 years or older to sign up for the camp.