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“In my desperation, I have finally discovered that the only way that I can begin to fill the gaping hole within me is to be thankful for what’s there, and not angry for what’s not.”
– Craig D. Lounsbrough, author  
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  Volume No. 14 Issue No. 11 November 2017  

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  Firefighting: not just for men
  Women firefighters at FFPD
  By Robin Widmar

   Even in the 21st century, people are sometimes surprised to see one of Falcon’s two female firefighters in the driver’s seat of a Falcon Fire Protection District fire engine. But for Kelley DeLaney and Amy Webb, it is all in a day’s work.
   
   DeLaney, a Colorado native, was born into a firefighting family. Her father was both a volunteer and career firefighter, and her mother served as a volunteer firefighter. As teens, DeLaney and her brothers were active in a Fire Explorer program, which allows 12 to 18-year-olds to participate in training, community events and limited emergency responses with their local fire department. “I truly can’t remember a time of my life that we weren’t involved with the fire department,” DeLaney said. “I really don’t know anything different.”
   
   DeLaney spent six years as a Fire Explorer. After graduating from high school, she earned her Emergency Medical Technician certificate, became a volunteer firefighter/EMT for the Wellington Fire Protection District (Colorado), and went on to earn an associate’s degree in fire science and technology from AIMS Community College in Greeley. DeLaney began volunteering for the Falcon Fire Protection District in 2012 and was hired as a part-time firefighter/EMT in May 2014. In May 2017, DeLaney was hired full-time at FFPD and promoted to the rank of driver operator. Her father, who was seriously injured in a 2016 ATV accident, had retired from his fire department just the week prior to her promotion ceremony. At the ceremony, he pinned her new badge. “This was a very proud day in my family,” DeLaney said. “It was as if the torch was passed.”
   
   Webb followed a different path to becoming a firefighter. Growing up in California, she didn’t know anyone who was a firefighter, and no one in her family worked in the fire service. A swimming scholarship took her to Toledo, Ohio, where she pursued a Bachelor of Arts in social work. While going to school, she worked as a nanny for a family whose father was a firefighter/paramedic. He loved his job and encouraged Webb to give the fire service a try. After applying at five different fire departments, she became the first woman to pass the Candidate Physical Abilities Test; and was subsequently hired by the High Point Fire Department in North Carolina.
   
   “I had no clue what firefighting entailed,” Webb said. “Nine months through a hard academy taught me a new world I love.” She specialized in water rescue and recovery, and stayed with that department for almost three years before moving to Colorado. “I chose Falcon Fire due to the welcoming department it is,” she said. “I walked in for an EMS open house and left with an application and information about changing my certifications to Colorado.” She started as a volunteer with FFPD in August 2008, was hired part-time in August 2010, and became a full-time firefighter/EMT just a month later. Webb was also promoted to driver operator in May 2017.
   
   National Fire Protection Association statistics show that 7.3 percent of firefighters in the U.S. were female in 2015. At FFPD, women fill just two of the 32 full-time, part-time and reserve firefighter positions. However, women have served as firefighters since the department’s inception in 1975.
   
   “The fire service isn’t for everyone,” DeLaney said. “It takes a unique type of person.” Firefighting is a physically and mentally demanding occupation that ranks second on the CareerCast.com “Most Stressful Jobs of 2017” survey. (Serving in the military ranked first.) Webb described firefighting as fast-paced, requiring a high level of endurance. “You need to be able to think critically and work hard for 48 hours in all temperatures,” she said.
   
   All firefighters, regardless of size or gender, must be able to perform a variety of arduous tasks such as pulling pressurized hoselines full of water through buildings; carrying, setting and climbing ladders; and using heavy power tools –- all while wearing about 50 pounds of personal protective equipment. Both DeLaney and Webb said they’ve had to learn slightly different methods than those used by their male counterparts. Rather than relying on sheer upper body strength, Webb said, “I have to change the technique a bit to use my legs more.” DeLaney said, “A lot of what we do has to do with technique and using our bodies to move in a way that is effective and efficient.”
   
   To stay fit, DeLaney trains and competes in Crossfit competitions and recently ventured into Olympic weightlifting meets. Webb runs on her days off in addition to working out at the fire station, where she lifts weights and does more cardio work.
   
   Beyond the physical demands of the job, women who work in a male-dominated profession can face other challenges. “Some males don’t think that women can keep up with them, so you’re continually having to ‘prove yourself’ when you shouldn’t have to,” DeLaney said. However, for both women, fitting into a mostly male occupational culture doesn’t seem to be an issue at FFPD. “Through my academy, rookie days, part-time and career; I have never felt left out or different from the guys,” Webb said.
   
   Although firefighters would rather focus on what they do instead of their gender, both the fire department and the community benefit from having women on emergency crews. “Women think on a different track,” DeLaney said. “They can bring new and fresh ideas or solutions to a problem.” On medical incidents, she noted that some female patients are more comfortable talking to firefighters and EMS personnel who are women.
   
   The job is also rewarding to the firefighters. “I love helping others,” Webb said. “I enjoy saving people’s lives, being there for families when things go well and even when things do not.” DeLaney echoed that sentiment: “The fact that on someone’s worst day, or when they have no other options, they call us and we are there to help them.”
   
   Advice for aspiring firefighters
   DeLaney and Webb have tips for anyone who wants to become a firefighter, especially women. “Work out and become strong, study and learn,” DeLaney said. “Have a ‘can do’ mindset and don’t give up the first time you fail at something. Because trust me, there will be plenty of failures.” She also suggested finding a mentor willing to coach and offer advice through the application and hiring process. “If you want it, you can work for it and get there.”
   
   Webb recommends training for and obtaining the CPAT certification, which “will give you a feeling of how to push your body.” The CPAT is a nationally recognized physical agility test required for FFPD fire academies.
   
   Both firefighters said the hard work is worth it. “It is an amazing job if you want to help people at their time of need,” Webb said.
   
   The Falcon Fire Protection District accepts applications for its reserve (volunteer) firefighter program year-round. For more information, go to http://falconfirepd.org.
  
Amy Webb assists with traffic control at a vehicle accident. Photo by Robin Widmar
 
Kelley DeLaney carries gear during FFPD training. Photo by Robin Widmar
 
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  Safety tip
  “Every Second Counts: Plan 2 Ways Out!”
  By Robin Widmar

   Modern fires burn hotter and faster than ever before. “Lightweight” construction materials and the synthetics used in modern furnishings and belongings contribute to rapid fire spread. They also produce deadly toxins when they burn.
   
   This year’s Fire Prevention Week theme emphasizes the importance of knowing at least two ways out of homes. To create a home escape plan:
  • Draw a map of the house, marking two exits from each room and a path to the outside from each exit.
  • Practice home fire drills twice a year. Conduct one at night and one during the day with everyone who lives in the home, and practice using different ways out.
  • Teach children how to escape on their own in case other family members cannot help them.
  • Teach everyone to close doors when exiting the building. This may slow the spread of smoke, heat and fire.

   And remember: Once outside, stay outside. Never go back inside a burning building.
   
   In addition to creating and practicing home escape plans, the Falcon Fire Protection District would like all residents to check their smoke alarms. Properly working smoke alarms provide crucial early warnings of a fire so occupants can safely escape.
  • Make sure working smoke alarms are installed on every level of the home and outside each sleeping area.
  • Smoke alarms should have fresh batteries –- no more than a year old for models that don’t use 10-year batteries.
  • Replace any alarm that is more than 10 years old. Look on the back of the unit for the manufacture date.
  • Test alarms monthly (and don’t forget to notify the alarm company in advance if the system is monitored).

   
   
Stay connected with the FFPD
Website: http://falconfirepd.org
Facebook: Falcon Fire Department
Twitter: @FalconFireDept
  
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