Television programs like "Chicago Fire" and "Station 19" show male and female firefighters in fairly equal numbers. However, the reality of female representation is dramatically different from Hollywood’s portrayal.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, women represented only 7 percent of the workforce in 2017. During that same year, the International Association of Fire Chiefs estimated that only 50 women were fire chiefs in the United States.
Long Beach is working to create a different dynamic. On Jan. 19, the Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD) promoted its first female Battalion Chief, Karen Rindone. Last weekend, Rindone and a number of other female firefighters led LBFD’s first Girls Fire Camp.
On Sunday, Dec. 8, 40 teens spent a full day experiencing different aspects of fire department life. The girls wore special T-shirts emblazoned with a “Rosie the Riveter-style” female firefighter, under authentic fire coats as they participated in interactive panels and moved through hands-on stations. Male firefighters helped with the event, but female firefighters provided the primary leadership for each activity.
“We need more diversity in the fire service,” Captain Jason Hosea said. “The LBFD is committed to making that happen and getting that message out.”
Hosea said information about the camp was sent to local high schools and shared on social media platforms. Although many attendees were from Long Beach, participants came from all over Southern California. Freshman Madeline Nees said she traveled from Goleta to attend the event.
In groups of eight to 10, girls got the opportunity to put out container fires, raise and climb ladders, advance a charged hoseline, practice CPR techniques, and don PPEs (personal protective equipment).
“Everything was really hands-on and everyone was very supportive,” said Paige Bischofberger, a student at Santa Ana College. “I am currently in the Fire Explorers in Orange County and this experience encapsulated a lot of the things I have been learning.”
Eleventh grader Alicia Naranjo said she came from El Monte because she is interested in going into public service. She said she enjoyed the day, especially the ladder climbing. Wilson High senior Samantha Hall said she discovered that fire equipment is heavier and bulkier than she had imagined. Hall said she particularly appreciated the panel because it gave her an opportunity to ask female firefighters questions about their experiences.
“Working for the fire department is very rewarding,” Chief Rindone said. “It’s not an easy job, but I love going home every day knowing I have done something that is positive and important.”
Rindone said she hopes to inspire other women to have similar experiences. Camps like this, she explained, are an opportunity to learn about the thrills and challenges of life in the fire department.
“This is a job like no other,” Rindone said. “It requires strength, endurance, and commitment. We want girls to know how to approach the application process. It is very competitive, but there are a number of things they can do to be successful: pursue mentorship with current firefighters, continue with their education, attend fire academies, go on ride-alongs, and volunteer in the community.”
Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw, whose father was a Long Beach firefighter for 30 years, spoke about his respect for the fire department. He told the girls, “This can be the start of a career and it’s also great training for anything you want to do in life.”
Captain Hosea agreed.
“This is a huge opportunity for you,” he said. “You are blazing new trails and we are here to support you.”