Female Firefighter Weekend shows young women a career in saving lives in DeKalb County

DeKalb and Decatur fire departments hosted a two-day event to celebrate women firefighters and hopefully attract more to the profession.
City of Decatur Firefighter Jazzmin Rullan shows Rolena Ford how to cut rebar. (Sara Amis/Decaturish)

DeKalb County Fire Rescue and the City of Decatur Fire Department hosted a two-day event June 22-23 to celebrate the women firefighters already at work and hopefully attract more young women to the profession.

The event included a “day in the life” program on Saturday at DeKalb’s Fire Station No. 7, followed by a one-day camp for girls ages 14-18 at the DeKalb Fire Rescue Academy.

Recruiting Captain Annette Haygood said that as with other public safety careers, the number of firefighters entering the profession has been low nationwide. Haygood said that since DCFR already has a number of women working for the department, she thought that an event showcasing that would encourage young women to consider firefighting as a career.

The City of Decatur’s Fire Chief Toni Washington, one of only 30 women fire chiefs in the country, echoed Haygood’s observations and emphasized the need for diversity in the fire service.

“A lot of girls aren’t aware that this career is available to them…We want you to be able to see yourselves in this job,” Washington said.

Firefighters Colleen Whitworth, Amber Shae Bolston, and Melissa Hutto, along with EMTs Tiana Clark, and Briana Oglesby gave a demonstration of rescuing a trapped car crash victim from a damaged vehicle.

Haygood led tours of the fire station, including the kitchen and living areas, as well as the gear room.

Fire Inspector Annette Green and retired firefighter and paramedic Robin Martin let visitors try on gear and explained the use of various tools needed to enable forcible entry when doors are blocked or on fire.

“They teach us to tear stuff up,” Green laughed.

Haygood, Washington, Martin and Green were straightforward about how difficult the job can be, not just physically but emotionally.

“Every time I’ve done a pediatric CPR, I’ve been crying,” Martin said.

But Martin and others also spoke about how there is much more support for the mental health of firefighters in general than there used to be, and more support for women firefighters in particular. And while it is difficult, they said, the job is also rewarding.

“You have people’s lives in your hands,” Green said.

Martin added she stopped at a Kroger in Dunwoody one day and a little boy gave her the best title ever: “Look mom, the fire lady is driving the fire truck.”

“Yeah, I love it here,” Green said.

Jenay Storey, a recent graduate of Alabama A&M, said that she’d had a great experience at the event.

“It was a great way to show that if you’re a woman, you can do anything you want, if you put your mind to it,” Storey said. “I definitely think I’m going to apply.”

Haygood said that if all goes according to plan, there will be another Female Firefighter Weekend in the fall. For those interested in applying, DeKalb’s Fire Rescue training program is 40 to 42 weeks and includes emergency medical technician certification.

DeKalb Fire Chief Darnell Fullum said that no prior experience is required, only heart and commitment.

To learn more about open fire department positions in DeKalb County, click here, and in the city of Decatur, click here.

This story was provided by WABE content partner Decaturish.