Western Colorado’s Women’s Fire Crew Is Igniting Change in Firefighting – Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado 2021-10-15 18:41:09 –

Photo courtesy of West Colorado Conservation Corps

Women’s groups do more than just provide diversity to industries that are suffering from staff shortages and low retention rates.

Kat Brace was sent in the first fire on a hot, dry night in June.She and a young woman from the West Colorado Conservation Women’s Fire Brigade rebounded south from the helicopter. Beaver Tail Fire in Mesa County.. Butterflies filled her stomach as the sun receded from the sky and when she landed on the scorched floor.

“We were the last flight before it got dark,” says Brace. “I had nerves and adrenaline in flight and on the first day.” Brace and her companion’s first firefighter are the terms she’ll get used to in the coming months, of smoldering fever. Started exploring the land to counteract or “wipe” the spots.

The brace slept with 18 other young women in the smoke, on a tarpaulin under the starry sky, at a safe distance from the flames. Most were in their early twenties. NS Female fire brigade The next morning, I woke up in the sun, worked in the field for four days, and continued to shift for 16 hours in 30 minutes for lunch and a short break.

The maximum time firefighters can engage in a lively fire is 14 consecutive days, and women’s fire brigades are at the top of the list of land management (BLM) firefighters, nationwide when a wilderness fire broke out. Contact the crew of. I need more people. Oozeley and Brace were deployed in six fires throughout the 2021 season.

“I was hooked after the first fire,” says Olivia Oozeley, program crew leader. “I like fire because I like to move my hips for something important, but I think many women like me who are doing it now accidentally set foot in the profession. Oozeley joined the crew at the recommendation of a friend. Brace came across this program while looking for an environment-related job on Growing up, neither woman dreamed of becoming a firefighter.

At university, both took courses on environmental and forestry research. Growing up in a rural town in southern Missouri, Oozeley remembers as the most comfortable girl outdoors. She continued to play the mellophone in the University of Missouri marching band. The equipment she brought to fight fires today, such as chainsaws and fire shelters, is “much heavier” than brass instruments.

Brace studied in Vermont and went hiking with 40 pounds in his backpack to prepare for trekking in the mountainous areas with the same weight of firefighting equipment for several months before joining the women’s fire brigade. rice field. When not on fire, the two enjoy hiking (without weight) or go out to national parks for recreation.

Women’s Fire Crew, now in its third year, has historically aimed to diversify male-dominated industries and provide women with hands-on training to become wilderness firefighters in BLM and West Colorado. Born from a Conservation Corps (WCCC) partnership. .. Crew members receive $ 12 per hour and $ 38 per day. After the March-November season, participants will qualify for what is called a “red card” and will be able to apply for full-time firefighting activities nationwide.

“About three years ago, BLM identified a shortage of female wilderness firefighters,” says WCCC Deputy Director Marcus Kisner. “Ultimately, the goal is to make young professionals want to pursue a career in fire in this area and in the wilderness through state, county, and federal agencies.”

Photo courtesy of West Colorado Conservation Corps

according to Recent data from the National Fire Protection AssociationIn 2018, about 7% of all US firefighters were women, and only about 12% of wilderness firefighting activities were carried out by women. Woosley and Brace, like many young professionals, never imagined themselves to be firefighters.Recruitment and retention is also regardless of the gender of the applicant Increasing problems For the US Forest Office sector nationwide.

“Suddenly, it feels like we’re competing for workers in a whole new job market,” said Cassandra Fleckenstein, BLM’s managing director and director of the Women in Wildland Fire Boot Camp in Oregon. “For many young professionals, working at McDonald’s is much easier than staying at the fire department for 14 days.”

In September, President Biden visited the National Inter-Ministry Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, to address the issue of staff and equipment shortages.Earlier this summer, he raised the federal minimum wage for federal firefighters. Raised to $ 15 per hour..

according to US Interior Ministry, Previously the minimum wage Colorado firefighter It was about $ 13 per hour.. However, some firefighters say $ 15 is still too low. Grassroots Wildland Firefighters, a leading advocacy group for federal firefighters, Told Colorado Public Radio The July salary increase is a good start, but lawmakers have to come up with a long-term solution.

Fleckenstein believes that changing the image of firefighting through all women’s training programs like Women’s Fire Crew offers more to the industry than a gender diversity outlook.It also helps address the need for well-trained workers, especially during climate change. Acceleration of drought, And the season of fire Intensified..

“We really hope that these programs will give women a chance to take up managerial positions in the firefighting industry,” says Freckenstein. “Currently, no woman is in a position to make a decision for future female firefighters.”

Meanwhile, Usley was offered a position to fight the fire with veteran experts at Grand Junction next season. Brace is currently looking for a firefighting job across the west. Both women expect to work in a wilderness fire over the next few years.

“Before running this program, I didn’t really think about firefighting,” says Brace. “I really enjoyed it, so now I’m actively applying for a firefighting job to promote my career.”

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