ABILENE, Texas — Texas A&M Forest Service hosted the second annual Sisters in Fire event at the city of Abilene Fire Department Training Facility on Oct. 1. Thirty-five girls ranging from 12 to 18 years old attended from 15 Texas counties.
Participants rotated to four stations throughout the day and learned how to suppress wildfires with engines and bulldozers, how chainsaws and hand tools are safely and important communication and practical skills of being a member of a wildland firefighting crew.
Maycee, a high school sophomore, hopes to be a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force and after finding the event on Facebook, she jumped at the chance to attend.
“We played games with the engines using water, like tug-of-war with a bucket. It was really fun,” said Maycee.
The engines station was a participant favorite.
“My favorite part was making new friends,” said Tabitha, 13. “My favorite station was the engines, because we got to get wet and have fun and use our muscles for the water games.”
Others were excited to learn more about an industry that their parents have dedicated their lives to.
“I came because I’m interested in this career path and my dad is also a wildland firefighter,” said Kayla, a sophomore participant. “I had a lot of fun doing the team building. There’s a spider web where your team has to pick you up to get through without touching the wires and it was a lot of fun and really helped our group open up.”
To end the day, groups put their knowledge to the test while watching a prescribed fire demonstration and answered questions about everything they learned.
Sisters in Fire teaches young women about wildland firefighting and natural resources, while introducing the industry as a career path opportunity.
“One thing that I think is universal between many women who work in natural resources or wildland firefighting jobs is that we had no idea that anything like this was available,” said Kari Hines, Sisters in Fire Incident Commander. “I started my college career looking at doing something in environmental science and it was by pure happenstance that I got into forestry, which brought me here. Introducing it to a younger generation earlier, hopefully will inspire some to also take these career paths.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, women represent 8% of all U.S. firefighters. And about 12% of the permanent wildfire suppression jobs at the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service are occupied by females.
Texas A&M Forest Service, the lead agency for wildfire response in the state, has 325 firefighters, 63 of those are female – less than 20%. Of those, a third are in leadership roles.
“Like many careers that are historically more male-dominated, we have a lack of women, specifically in leadership roles, in wildland fire and incident management,” said Hines. “We also know that girls, usually in about the fifth and sixth grades, often have massive declines in confidence and leadership and, depending on where you live in society, are often told that some of these things are not available, that they are not naturally suited and not strong enough to do these jobs. So, we are hoping to reach young women, still in their formative years, to encourage them.”
One way to help increase the number of women in the field is to build a support network for female fire practitioners, where women mentor and train one another, from agencies and partners across the state – a major goal of the Sisters in Fire event.
The event was hosted in cooperation with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Austin Fire Department, Abilene Fire Department and Texas Nature Conservancy.
“The wildland firefighting, incident response and natural resource career paths are nothing without collaboration and partnership,” said Hines. “The world of these careers is so very small, we all work together on an almost daily basis and getting to work with women from Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service and other local agencies really helps us to firm up those relationships and create relationships where they maybe didn’t exist to begin with.”
For event photos, visit https://bit.ly/SistersinFire22
–Texas A&M Forest Service