Fort Worth – Becoming a firefighter is not as easy as taking two tests and waiting for your number to be called, dozens of firefighter hopefuls found out at a recent recruitment event.
The North Texas Women Firefighters (NTXWFF) organization held the “Fire Recruit Expo” that over 50 people attended early one Saturday at Tarrant County College’s Fire Service Academy in Fort Worth.
“We wanted to bring out the public—men and women—to see what it’s like to be a firefighter,” said NTXWFF President Tracy Whitten.
The organization has three goals: to recruit, equip and educate women to become firefighters and guide them through their career.
“This puts a face with it and shows that you can become a firefighter as a female,” Whitten said of the event, which falls under their recruitment arm of the organization.
In order to equip members, NTXWFF offers practice sessions to help future firefighters master the skills needed to pass the physical abilities test (PAT).
“It’s really about the technique,” Whitten said of the exams, “It’s not just the brute strength.”
The expo included several stations where those who attended could get their hands on firefighting equipment and take the PAT to see how they fared. Several area fire departments had recruitment booths and were on hand to address questions from the public.
Attendees could don SCBA and see what it’s like to go on air while taking part in physical activities, such as crawling through a darkened out maze. Additional stations allowed attendees to drag and operate hoselines, climb an aerial ladder, drag a dummy and use the Keizer sled that tests endurance.
“I learned about some movements on the Keizer that will help me in the future,” said North Central Texas College Fire Academy student Callen Hagler. “I want to get as much practice as I can and that’s why I’m here,” the 22-year-old said, noting that each opportunity to go through the PAT gives him more experience.
The education arm of the organization includes a mentorship program that’s tailored to help those interested in a fire service career.
“We team them up with those who are already firefighters for guidance and advice on how to get hired and take the tests” Whitten said. She added that mentor’s offer moral support, which really helps push the students through the process.”
Whitten was a paramedic when she found an interest in the fire service. She spoke with members of the Denton Fire Department who provided her with guidance to get hired as a full-time firefighter.
Earlier this year, Mykolyn Garcia, 27, decided to take a journey down the career path in the fire service, with the ultimate goal of being a fire investigator. Several of her friends have attended area fire academies and have been hired by different departments. Garcia has attended open houses and when she found out about the NTXWFF, it stepped up her game.
“They have given me a lot of tips, a lot of encouraging help,” Garcia said.
Deborah Schwartz credits several women and friends with helping her get hired as a firefighter/paramedic in Addison, TX, three years ago.
“Before I got hired, I struggled with agility exams,” she said, “but I had a few females who reached out to me and said ‘hey, you can do this’ and they took me to their facilities and did this same kind of (PAT) training we are doing here so I could build the strength where it’s needed.”
Schwartz is now the first vice president of NTXWFF.
“This is our way of giving back, to give some encouragement,” Schwartz said.
NTXWFF runs a number of events around North Texas to help future firefighters follow their goals.
“Get out there and try,” said Schwartz. “Never give up! If you don’t pass one agility, there is another one out there you can pass.”
Schwartz tells the candidates, “Find the person that you need to help train you so you’re ready for everything.”