A group of young women from two countries and three states were given an up-close look at the world of the wildland firefighter during the recent Sisters in Fire event.
The event was hosted by the Texas A&M Forest Service in cooperation with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Austin Fire Department.
Fired up over diversity
According to National Fire Protection Association statistics, women represent 7.3% of all U.S. firefighters. About 12% of the permanent wildfire suppression jobs at the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service are currently occupied by women.
Texas A&M Forest Service remains dedicated to protecting Texas’ citizens and natural resources from wildfire, and the agency’s leadership seeks to increase diversity in the wildland firefighting profession, said Emily Wall, division chief operating officer for the agency’s wildfire programs, Bryan-College Station, who attended Sisters in Fire.
“The agency develops and promotes initiatives that help women get involved in firefighting, which has generally been known as a man’s job or career,” Wall said. “The Sisters in Fire event was a great way to introduce young women to this career and get the word out that firefighting can also be a career for women.”
About Sisters in Fire
Thirty young women ages 12-17 from Denmark, as well as from Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, participated in the hands-on learning event led by an all-female cadre of instructors and support staff.
The young women were given an introduction to wildland firefighting and emergency response. Participants spent the day exploring engine and dozer operation and chainsaw use. plus received instruction on fire weather, fire culture and communications activities.
“It really was a great and exciting day for not only the girls in attendance but also for our instructors to share their passion for their work,” said Nicole Lang, a regional fire coordinator for the Texas A&M Forest Service based in Houston. “The girls learned how firefighters put out fires with engines and bulldozers and were given the opportunity to use a bulldozer simulator for practice. They also learned the proper way to start and hold a chainsaw, and one of the instructors demonstrated how to safely cut down a tree. We also gave them instruction related to leadership and communication styles.”
Lang, who was primary coordinator for the event, said presenting this learning opportunity was the result of the collaboration of about 20 agency professionals who worked in tandem with local and federal agency cooperators.
Another person who played an important leadership role in the event was Paige Purvis, an agency task force coordinator based in Lubbock.
“The original idea for this event began more than two years ago, but with the pandemic we had to delay it,” Purvis said. “The participants learned a lot about what we do as firefighting professionals and how cool the job really is. We couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome. I know if I had been exposed to such an event when I was young, I would have gotten into this profession even sooner.”