When firefighters are depicted on TV, in books and even in neighborhoods, the normal experience has always been seeing men take on this job. In elementary school when the local fire department came in and talked to the school, it was most often men who were present. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), only eight percent of the firefighters in the nation were women in 2019.
However, firefighters locally are working to change that perception.
On Wednesday, Sept. 16., Las Positas hosted part one of three of the Las Positas College Women in the Fire Service online seminars. This seminar was moderated by the recently retired Elizabeth de Dios, who served with the Richmond Fire Department for 24 years, 13 of those as an Engine/Rescue Captain. She has also served as a trainer for the Richmond Fire Department and other departments throughout the Bay Area.
During part one of the seminars, she spoke on topics such as the gap between men and women firefighters, taking the right first steps to this career path and what one endures and needs for preparation in a firefighter academy.
Session one consisted of the general overview of the program, while session two will focus on going over the application process and the written exam that comes with it. Session three will include the oral interview and the background/medical check. A final session is scheduled for students and applicants to practice their mock orals to get a feel of the real deal.
LPC offers different programs for women interested in becoming firefighters. These include the A.S. in Fire Service Technology (the Associate of Science Degree), LPC Regional Fire Academy 21-01, an EMS program where students can receive their EMT certification, career fairs, outreach events and can create a strong network.
For many little kids, it is their dream to one day grow up and become a firefighter. Host De Dios spoke on the topic of the first steps in doing so and how parents and loved ones should encourage their kids to one day become local heroes.
She said, “We don’t start women young enough. Parents will usually only encourage their sons for such jobs.” She emphasized her point, recalling that in elementary school, girls were always encouraged to follow career paths such as becoming teachers or nurses, leaving the more physically intense jobs for the boys.
Present were also guest speakers Richmond Fire Department Firefighter Jessica Waar and Julie Mao, Captain of 19 years at the San Francisco Fire Department. They each spoke about their experiences in that workforce and spoke about what it is they loved about their jobs.
Waar said, “The best part of this job is that it is always changing. You will never have the same day twice.”
For women who desire a career in which they are actively on feet feet, facing changing and challenging situations each day, a firefighter position could be what is right for them.
Also speaking in the seminar was recent LPC Regional Firefighter Academy graduate Jessica Beristianos, who touched on the great experience she had while at the academy and the great mentors she had there.
According to WomenInFire.org, the first known woman firefighter was Molly Williams, who was a slave in New York City and later became a member of Oceanus Engine Company in 1815. It is important for such a workforce to have diversity to better serve in a community of different backgrounds, genders and ethnicities.
Ana Delgadillo is a staff writer for The Express. Follow her at @aaanakd.