Seven Berthoud firefighters are women
While they do not think of themselves as trailblazers, the seven women – Jasmine Crane, Erin Henry, Caitlyn Kimberlin, Clair Lee, Haylee McCullough, Makayla Probst and Tori Schneider – who currently serve as firefighters with the Berthoud Fire Protection District (BFPD) do recognize they are in a distinct minority as female firefighters.
Berthoud’s seven females represent a little more than 20% of the BFPD squad, well above the national average. According to statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, only about 8% of firefighters in the United States are female with an even smaller percentage, just over 4%, serving as career firefighters. Greater percentages of women occupy law enforcement (13%), military (20%), paramedic (21%) and careers than fire service.
“I think we’re all definitely proud, it’s cool when you go to an elementary school and the little girls are like ‘wow there’s a girl firefighter!’,” said Kimberlin, the longest tenured female on the squad with nine years of service. “A lot of people don’t realize how many females are in the service here, I get to tell people I work with six other ladies and they think it’s awesome.”
Both literally and figuratively, when responding to a call there exists no line of delineation between male and female firefighters. The group explained that those to whom they are tending in an emergency are unaware of the firefighter’s gender, something they all appreciate, but also one that can lead to some awkwardly comical situations afterwards.
As Henry explained, “We joke about it a lot, when we’re on scene and we’re in all our gear and people will say ‘thanks guys, and girl’ or they’ll say, ‘the firemen are here, and, the fire lady,’ or something and it’s actually really fun when they realize you’re female.”
While the seven are in a minority as female firefighters, their motivations for service are the same as anyone, of any gender, from any background, anywhere on the planet, who risk their lives on a daily basis for the rest of us. Each of the seven explained their dedication to serving their community; they are proud to be there to help, comfort and care for people on their worst days so they can later go on to have their best days.
As Schneider very nicely articulated, “I think we’ve all been there in an emergency where you didn’t know what to do, so it means a lot to me to have put myself in a position and do the training every day and have a job where I can show up and help people, give them that peace of mind, that support, it’s more than just medical or emergency support, it could be the one of the worst days of their lives and for us to show up and be good at what we do and have them be able to sit back and say ‘someone is here and they’re going to help,’ that means everything to me.”
The motivations for their service are all similar, or even outright identical at their very core, but the background of each differ widely. Kimberlin and Schneider both went the traditional four-year college route, the former graduating from Northern Colorado with a health and exercise science degree and the latter from Colorado State as a business major.
Kimberlin decided to forgo an immediate jump to nursing school, and, while getting her EMT certification, fell in love with the firefighting profession while on a ride along in Greeley. “The whole day on my ride along I was just like ‘wow this is so cool’ and I was 22 years old, I had never been predisposed, no one in my family is in the fire service, and I just thought nursing school will always be there,” she explained.
For Schneider the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire in her native Colorado Springs altered her career path. While working in marketing at a run-of-the-mill office job, which she was enjoying, the fire affected her hometown neighborhood, costing many friends and acquaintances their homes, and ultimately proved life changing. “I had that feeling in the back of my head to go to the fire academy and here I am and it’s the coolest job in the world,” Schneider said.
For some of the others, the ties to fire fighting and similar professions are in the family blood. Henry’s younger brother began the career prior to her, and Probst had grandparents long involved in the fire service in neighboring Loveland. “I started when I was in high school, I’m only 21, so I started pretty early knowing what I wanted, I never wanted a desk job, it’s something for me that has always been there,” she explained.
McCollough previously worked in different capacities in law enforcement before joining the fire service. “My family was kind of relieved, but they realized this is just as much of a dangerous job, for me the team aspect was big, my family gave me a lot of love, a lot of support,” she explained.
The support each of the seven have received from both from their families and friends as well as from inside the firehouse have been extraordinary. As women, they all stated there are simple biological and body composition differences between themselves and the men on the squad.
“I think we all agree that there are things that are a little bit harder to do as women, like my upper body will never be as big as some of the guys, we all think a little bit differently because of that, we all think ‘okay, what’s a way I can do this?’ because the job expectations are the same, as they should be. We can all perform the job well we just have all had to find our own way to do it,” Crane said.
The group all said the men on the squad have been extraordinarily helpful as well. As Schneider stated, “I think the guys have worked with women enough, at least here in Berthoud, and from what I’ve seen is they’ll take a step back and help brainstorm and say, ‘let’s figure out together the best way for you to get the job done’ they’re just as helpful in training, they don’t just leave us to figure it out on our own.”
It all ultimately boils down the family-like feel of the fire house. As Crane said, “What’s been cool about being here in Berthoud and having some many other females to work with, is you’re not one of the females in the academy, you’re not one of two females in an entire department, I think every shift now there is a camaraderie, like ‘how do you do this’ because it doesn’t look the same when our male counterparts do it.”
Kimberlin added, “We spend one third of our life here and we just inherit a second family and you go through things you that don’t go through at home and you get close to these people in a way you don’t at home,” and concluded by encouraging other females of any stripe, especially younger women who may be looking at different career paths, to consider the fire service saying, “If any other female wants to be in the fire service, there is no better time than now to do it, just go for it, you can do it, we did it, you can too.”
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