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Henderson Fire to resume seminar to help women become firefighters

Updated August 7, 2019 - 1:08 pm

After a three-year hiatus, the Henderson Fire Department plans to bring back a seminar designed to help women interested in becoming firefighters.

The first Women in the Fire Service seminar was held in 2005 and a handful have been offered in the years that followed, but none has been held since 2016 due to staffing constraints, Deputy Fire Chief Scott Vivier said. The seminar is led by employees who volunteer their time.

The free seminar is Nov. 1-3; women interested in participating can fill out a form at joinhendersonfire.com.

The Fire Department wants to increase the diversity of its workforce and help remove barriers for job candidates, Vivier said. Nationwide, only 5.1 percent of firefighters in 2018 were women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We recognize that in the fire service (women are) an important demographic of employee that we’re not very successful in recruiting and hiring,” Vivier said.

Yielding results

Fire officials informally track whether women who participate in the seminar become firefighters. About 20 of the program’s graduates are working at a fire department, either in the Las Vegas Valley or elsewhere.

One of them is Leslie Hernandez, who has been a firefighter with the Henderson Fire Department for about two years.

Hernandez enrolled in an emergency medical technician program around 2006 shortly after graduating from Eldorado High School in Las Vegas. She earned an associate’s degree in fire science from the College of Southern Nevada.

She also participated in the volunteer Explorer Program for young adults through the Las Vegas Fire Department, where she learned the basics of firefighting.

Hernandez loved it. She began working in the support division in the warehouse for the department.

Then, Hernandez met someone who was involved with the Women in the Fire Service seminar and enrolled in about 2015.

It was a good way to prepare mentally and physically for a 16-week fire academy, she said, which she later graduated from.

Women in the Henderson Fire Department

The department has 279 employees. When it comes to hiring women, “we do a pretty good job in the non-sworn group with support staff,” Vivier said.

But on the operations side — those out in the field — fewer than 10 of approximately 220 employees are women, Vivier said. He listed off the positions women fill: a chief officer, medical services officer, and several fire engineers and firefighters.

The Fire Department, though, will soon see its ranks of female firefighters expand. The department recently made job offers to 21 people from a fire academy, and six are women, Vivier said.

History of the seminar

The first Women in the Fire Service seminar, in 2005, drew 12 attendees. The most recent — in 2016 — garnered 39.

The seminar coincides with the department’s hiring cycles, Vivier said, and the goal is to hold one shortly before a candidate testing date.

“We don’t always hire or do a test every year,” he said.

The Fire Department held tests in 2017 and 2018, but didn’t offer the seminar those two years.

There also was a hiatus from 2009-15 that coincided with the Great Recession, Vivier said.

‘Real-life aspects of the job’

The city advertises the seminar and contacts local technical high schools to attract participants. Those interested are invited to attend, even if they’re not planning to test for a job right away.

Henderson firefighters must be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or equivalent, be an EMT and meet other requirements.

The Women in the Fire Service seminar is aimed at removing barriers to testing for the fire service, such as the incorrect perception among some women that they aren’t strong enough to do the work or it wouldn’t be feasible while raising children, Vivier said.

When other women approach Hernandez about their interest in becoming a firefighter, “they’re always a little intimidated about the physical aspect of it,” she said.

During the seminar, participants learn the physical agility test for firefighting candidates, Vivier said. They do drills while wearing protective gear and practice using some of the standard tools of the job, such as ladders, chainshaws and sledgehammers.

Also, women from Las Vegas-area fire departments speak to attendees about “real-life aspects of the job,” Vivier said.

“We do try to give them a good perspective of women in the fire service,” he said, and the important role they’ve played both past and present. “They can see a real-life success story.”

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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