A group of more than 100 women from around the United States gathered in the high country this weekend. But they didn’t come to Summit County for just any girls’ getaway.
The women have been knocking down doors, entering burning buildings, dragging hoses, raising ladders and handling saws in hands-on training classes at the Fire Women 2013 conference. The event, held at the High Country Training Center in Frisco, provides a one-of-a-kind professional development and national training opportunity for women firefighters.
“This is an environment unlike any other that the girls are going to get to experience,” said Rachel Staebel, a firefighter paramedic with the Colorado Springs Fire Department.
“Being in crews of all girls, working among other women, is such a rare occurrence in their departments,” Staebel said. “It allows them to be safe and to train in a way that they normally don’t get to — and to see how other women handle things.”
The conference, which began on Friday and wraps up today, involves live fire scenarios, ventilation, firefighter rescue, forcible entry and other tasks firefighters perform in their daily jobs. Classroom sessions offered topics ranging from strategy, tactics, health and fitness to gender communication, diversity, command issues and leadership.
Freezing, windy weather on Saturday added another layer of challenge for the firefighters as they completed their hands-on training. But the women at the conference said working in the unfamiliar conditions was an added benefit for conference participants, who need to be ready for any scenario.
“We don’t stop fighting fire. We adapt,” said Heidi Simon, conference co-coordinator and lieutenant at South Metro Fire Rescue in Centennial.
Project organizers said they enjoyed having the conference in Summit County, not only because of the “graciousness” of local fire personnel and their willingness to share their facilities, but also because it allows firefighters the chance to get away and enjoy the experience.
“It’s an opportunity to physically get out there and be somewhere unfamiliar,” said Kim Scott, a firefighter in Boulder and former Summit County resident. “You have the opportunity to let go and enjoy what is being offered.”
Conference organizers said women firefighters make valuable contributions every day, and it’s through celebrating their unique abilities that they can best serve the community.
Simon said she enjoyed watching emergency scenarios on TV when she was growing up. But she had a different career before she entered the fire service.
“I really liked it because it involved helping people — but it wasn’t really on the community level,” Simon said. “In this situation the community actually needs help, and that’s why I like doing it.”
The biggest barrier for people getting into the firefighting profession, Simon said, is fear of the unknown.
“What this conference allows is the opportunity for them to develop confidence, as well as the competence, so that fear can be resided and they can really grow,” Simon said. “It’s a safe place for them to complete their tasks and learn and then go back to their department and have confidence.”
Organizers said saw a change in the women firefighters during the event.
“It’s fun to be able to see them go from being uncomfortable and a little bit timid to see them being rock stars,” Staebel said.
“Watching them walk away with skills they didn’t have before is worth every hour,” she said. “If I have a couple girls ‘Hell yeah’ as they go out of here — then I’ll be doing the same thing.”