Of the more than 200 firefighters in the Henderson Fire Department, seven are women.
Emergency medical services chief Kim Moore has been with the department for more than 20 years.
“As I’ve grown throughout the years, my role in helping people is different,” Moore said. “Each method I’ve done, my reach has expanded and I know we’re changing things.”
The scarcity of women in the department is not unique to Henderson.
Women made up 4.6 percent of all firefighters in the U.S. from 2011-2015, excluding administrators, managers, fire code inspectors and volunteer firefighters, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Born in Las Vegas, Moore grew up watching her father slip his fire jacket on and off. He worked for the North Las Vegas Fire Department for close to 20 years before retiring.
Moore said it was a different world then.
“There were very big standards,” Moore said. “You had to be ‘this’ tall and ‘this’ weight, and I remember my sister and I used to watch him eating ice cream because he was trying to gain weight for the department.”
Moore became an EMT with Mercy Ambulance at 19 and began running calls with her father in North Las Vegas. The more she saw the “rough and tough” nature of the firemen, the more she rejected the idea of pursuing the job herself.
After shifting into a dispatch job, Moore attended paramedic school. When the valley’s fire departments began to hire paramedics in the late 1980s, Moore became the first female firefighter paramedic in the Henderson department at age 27.
“The first fire call I remember going on, I got in a lot of trouble,” Moore said, laughing. “I was the rookie, and I was really excited. I was driving the truck, and my partner in the back was putting on his gear, and I hit this bump. I swear, we were airborne for a second and then I ran over the fire hose.”
Moore went through the Henderson fire academy as the only female in a class of 18. In the academy, female firefighters have different bathrooms available to them, but everything else is the same, Moore said.
“You’re held to the same standards. You have to pass the same tests,” Moore said.
The camaraderie of the crew is often what keeps tension at bay, as each firefighter is working toward a common goal, Moore said.
While in the academy, Moore was also raising two young sons, Kyle and Cameron. She drove an hour to work from Logandale every day.
“Coming to the academy five days a week, then driving home to be their mom and their tutor and everything else, that was the most challenging part,” Moore said. “If they were struggling in school, I wouldn’t be able to get home and do homework with them until the next day.”
A long journey
It took medical services officer Monica Manig ten years to become a firefighter. She joined the Henderson Fire Department in 2001.
She now administers the training of 911 operators.
“It wouldn’t let me go,” Manig said. “When I thought I’d throw in the towel at that last round, there was something driving me internally that wouldn’t let me. For all the times people tried to talk me out of it, it made me want to go harder, work out more and just push myself.”
Manig created the Women in the Fire Service program in 2005 with two other female colleagues to inspire women to become firefighters. While the department supported the training throughout the years, it wasn’t adopted as an official program until last year.
Manig and her colleagues designed the program from a “realistic” standpoint. They wanted to prepare potential female firefighters for what it would be like to work in a male-dominated profession.
Participants in the Women in Fire Service program learn about life in the firehouse, training at the academy and do a run-through of the candidate physical ability test. The CPAT’s eight tasks have to be completed within 10 minutes, 20 seconds.
Henderson public information officer Kathleen Richards said that while this often seems daunting to women, physicality isn’t everything.
“Tenacity is really what makes women succeed,” Richards said. “I’ve seen some women that were the smallest one in the class, and they did so much more than the one who’s been working out for ten years because that mental focus was there.”
Female firefighters from the Clark County, Las Vegas and Henderson fire departments share their testimonies with the attendees throughout the course of the program. Fire chiefs also visit the class to express what they look for in a firefighter.
Some of the women who’ve taken the training have received a wake-up call, Manig said.
“They don’t realize we’re paramilitary,” Manig said. “You may get yelled at. You may pay a price for not following directions, not standing in line with everyone else.”
The program has produced 22 female firefighters in various departments, Manig said.
“Even the guys, it’s not just about being big and burly,” Moore said. “It’s about being smart.”