Women learn to fight fire with each other’s support
When six women graduate from Palm Beach State College’s Fire Academy this Thursday, they will carry with them a special bond that will last a lifetime.
Amanda Bronson, Danielle Lanouette, Tatum Fitzpatrick, Cristina Viner, Marisa Murphy and Kirsten Berthold make up the largest group of women ever to graduate from one PBSC Fire Academy class. While all hoped that they would not be the only woman in the class of 24, none expected to be one of six.
“They’re some of the most supportive women I’ve ever met,” Fitzpatrick said at the recent videotaping of the group. “We’re like sisters,” Lanouette concurred, as did everyone else.
Nationwide, only 3.5 percent of the 283,000 career firefighters are women, according to 2017 statistics from U.S Department of Labor. This makes firefighting a nontraditional occupation for women, as defined by the Labor Department, since one gender comprises 25 percent or less of the profession’s workforce.
The Fire Academy is working with local fire departments and the Florida Department of Education to increase the number of women and other underrepresented groups in firefighting. “Having six females in one class shows us that we’re making progress,” said Barbara Cipriano, associate dean for PBSC Public Safety programs. “Firefighting is a very good field. There’s a great salary, a great work schedule, and it’s serving others. Historically it’s been a white male-dominated field, and we’ve been trying to find balance and create an awareness in our community.”
Kerry Weiss, PBSC Fire Academy’s interim director, noticed that the six women formed a tight bond right away, and was pleased to see that it didn’t faze their male classmates in the least.
“The whole class got along and called themselves the Backdraft Bulldogs. They developed a team spirit and worked together to get the job done,” Weiss said. “I’m very proud of them.”
The number of women graduating from the PBSC Fire Academy has increased over the past five years. During the 2012-13 academic year, four women graduated, and from summer term 2017 to spring term 2018, the academy graduated 11 women.
Looking forward to their own graduation, the six women also know it will be bittersweet as it means the end of their time together.
“I’m happy that I made it through, and that we made it together,” Berthold said. “At graduation, I’ll be excited, relieved and definitely feel a sense of accomplishment. But I am going to be very sad, too. I wish I could make this class my job and these women my crew. I think we all kind of wish that.”