As a firefighter it is imperative that we train. However, state classes seldom fit into my schedule, and in my county, opportunities to take the classes I'm interested in are few and far between. Fortunately, I have been able to attend many classes I otherwise might have missed in recent years, by going to the annual Women Firefighters' weekend at the New York State Fire Academy in Montour Falls. This weekend was started by the Fire Service Women of New York State. This is a great organization and their course offerings each year are fantastic.
The Women's Weekend is in its 8th year, of which I have attended 6. In my own opinion this has been the greatest experience I have had in my firefighting career of 18 years. I got involved in this training conference through a former Chief, who handed me the packet for the 2004 conference and told me in no uncertain terms that I was going to go. After I looked at the packet, I was immediately interested, and readily agreed to go. The first time I went, I took only lecture courses, and I have to admit I wasn't sure I was going to go back, because I didn't know anyone and I was really intimidated, but I sucked it up when I got the packet the following year. The classes offered are some state classes and then there are some classes that are not state certificate classes but are still very interesting all the same.
My 2nd year attending, I did a couple of Certificate classes, one of them being Medium Structural Collapse, Tools. This class was incredible. I got to run tools that I have never picked up at all, like jack hammers and cement cutting saws. I learned a lot and that year I made a lot of new friends. There are women from all over, not just New York. We have women coming from Texas all the way to Canada.
Why am I writing a blog about the Woman's Weekend? It's not to start a huge conversation on people's opinions on women in the fire service. Rather, it is to get the word out to all the female firefighters who want to train and network with other female firefighters. This is one of the best things to happen to the fire service. As with everything else in the fire service, this conference is in need of more help from the female firefighters. We need to have more women attend so that we can keep the conference going every year.
There has been some discussion with others involved with the planning of this conference to make it every other year. The women that attend this conference are adamantly opposed to that change; unfortunately, if our attendance doesn't improve we may have no choice. The instructors that come and teach are fantastic and are all about getting us to get through the classes, especially the state certificate ones.
We have used the SCBA maze at the Academy, and last year I took the Firefighter Survival class. It was intense but very satisfying at the end of the class, when I could do everything they taught us. I would take that class again just to do it. I've also taken Rope Rescue Basic and Intermediate and had a great experience. I have a fear of falling and this was a big accomplishment for me to take those two classes and finish. I have to thank the instructors and also the girls that were in the class with me. They weren't about to let me not rappel off the roof of the big burn building. Nobody put us down, nobody said we couldn't do it because we were female. It was and is one of the best experiences I have had in years.
We have an opening Ceremony every year with a Keynote speaker, and on Saturday night we have an auction, featuring items that everyone is encouraged to bring and donate. The money from the auction goes to the organization.
I must not forget to mention that the Fire Service Women of New York State has started a camp for young women ages 14-19 who are interested in becoming firefighters. The camp is called Phoenix Fire Camp. This is held every July for a week at the Utica Fire Department. The dates for the 2010 camp are July 18-23, 2010. It is an incredible camp and an opportunity that has never been offered to girls in this area before. I have not been able to help with the Phoenix Camp but from seeing the pictures from the camp and talking with the girls that have gone, it is an incredible experience for the girls that apply and go as well as for the women that are there to help with the camp and campers
I am hoping if any female firefighters read this blog whether they are career or volunteer, please consider coming and training with us. It is a great experience and the friendships that are made are priceless.
This is the link to the website that has been created: http://www.fswnys.org/
I encourage all to visit the website and then when next year comes around I hope that you will consider coming to train with the rest of us and make some great friendships. As I mentioned earlier you don't have to be a firefighter in New York State to come and participate. I also encourage department Chiefs to encourage your female firefighters to come and take the training. The date for the conference next year is September 16 – 20, 2010.