Minn. Women's Fire Expo Offers Hands-on Experience

More than 70 women in St. Paul got the chance to see if they have the right stuff to become firefighters. 

The second St. Paul Fire Women's Expo allowed them to get an idea what skills are needed to be a firefighter.

“It’s a chance for women to be aware that this is a career opportunity and that, if they are serious about it, they start getting ready for it and they can definitely be a part of it,” said District Chief Stacy Hohertz, who set up the event.

 “It’s gives women the opportunity to get their hands on the equipment, learn about the job and find out about the requirements to get the job.”

The department currently has 400 firefighters, of which only 19 are females. 

The attendees were split into two groups, who practiced smashing the Keiser sled, carrying a hose bundle up the stairs of the drill tower, dragging a charged hoseline and pulling a 175-pound dummy across the paved lot.

The dummy drag seemed to cause the most aggravation for the attendees during the afternoon session.

“I’ve done that thing before with flying colors and today I just don’t know what it was, but it was pretty rough,” said Jess Wilds.

The 26-year-old was a paid-on call firefighter in the Minneapolis suburbs and spent a year on front lines of wildfires in the Midwest.

She said there’s a distinct difference between structural and wildland firefighting exams.

“Out there you just have your pack on and about 45 pounds, hiking up and down the mountains. It’s a lot different today…there are a lot more things you need to carry and here you have an armload.”

Jenny Boll, 26, found out about the expo from a family friend and signed up.

“I had no idea that this job is so much of the paramedic stuff,” she said. “I was really surprised about that.”

After completing the agility exam, she said “I am really fired up about it now and I have more of an idea of what I need to train for and prepare for physically.”

She said her biggest challenges were the Keiser sled and the dummy drag.

“The physical part of the job, I thought it was a lot easier,” Boll said. She is currently employed as a union ironworker.

After leaving the expo, Boll said she is going focus on physical aspects of training.

Both said they plan to take advantage offers that were made by local gyms to those who showed up.

They also had the chance to get hands-on with engine and truck company operations.

The climbed an aerial, placed to the roof of a burn building carrying saws and other tools.

At another station, firefighters stressed the importance of teamwork as a group moved a charged hoseline through a small obstacle course before opening up the nozzle to spray water.

The department held a similar event in 2008 and works with the North Star Women Firefighting Association, which runs an annual expo for women in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. 

The department expects to open the next application period in January with testing to take place in the spring.