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Lebanon academy gives young women taste of firefighting

Kids are always being asked what they want to be when they grow up.

So when people asked Londyn Randall that question, she’d tell them she wanted to be a firefighter.

Londyn has been interested in firefighting since she was in kindergarten, although she’s considered other options as well. She job-shadowed a dietitian and quickly realized that wasn’t for her. She has also wanted to try the search and rescue training program, but hasn’t had the opportunity yet.

“I just really like helping people out,” she said.

It is clear where her passion lies, as she couldn’t talk about her interest in this type of work without letting a tear or two slide down her cheek.

This summer she was able to test out her interest in firefighting.

Londyn, 14, was among 20 other young women who participated in the inaugural Linn County Young Women’s Fire Academy at the Lebanon Fire District headquarters June 23-24.

The academy was open to women aged 16 to 19 years old, but that didn’t stop Londyn.

“Londyn was extremely persistent with wanting to attend the camp,” said Lt. Erin Nunes of the Lebanon Fire District. “She contacted us repeatedly, and her mom even dropped by to put in a good word for her.”

After seeing Londyn perform during the academy, Nunes had to agree that she fit right in with the other girls.

And Londyn, who will be a high school sophomore next year, said she loved participating. She learned how to suppress a fire, forcibly enter a building or vehicle, and search for victims in a building with impaired vision.

As many as 22 female firefighters from across Oregon – Clackamas, Tualatin Valley, Mount Angel, Albany, Sweet Home, Lebanon, Turner, Scio and Sublimity – volunteered their weekend to train the participants how to gear up, use the hose, create ventilation, and perform the Denver Drill and search and rescue, among other things.

They also had to try climbing a fire truck ladder, which was suspended in the air at 109 feet. It was a challenging drill for many, including Londyn, but that didn’t stop her from reaching the top.

“It was really fun climbing up that ladder,” Londyn said.

The free, two-day fire academy was open to women who might be interested in pursuing a career in firefighting or related field, or just wanted to try it for fun, said Nunes, who participated in a similar program in Portland and decided to initiate an academy in Linn County.

The result exceeded Nunes’ expectations.

“Just to see the girls, when they first came in and they were kind of shy and timid, and to see where they are today, they’re confident and they’re having fun and they’re bonding. That’s exactly what we were looking for.”

Though sexism is frowned upon and equality is applauded in today’s society, Nunes believes a girls-only fire academy is still needed. Although women have been fighting fires since the 1800s, very few think of it as a viable option to consider, she noted.

“Girls do not typically picture themselves in a role such as a firefighter,” she said. “My goal is to put a little thought in their head that they can not only do, but excel at this type of career, or volunteer, as a firefighter.”

Nunes said she was concerned that if boys were included in the academy, it could hinder her goal of encouraging girls.

“We created an environment where young girls can try tasks without fear of looking weak or failing –  something they would perhaps have a hard time doing with boys watching them,” she said. “We are trying to show people who don’t think they can do this job that they can do this job. Boys already know they can do it.”

At the very least, it was a fun weekend with fun counselors, Nunes said. The academy gave the girls a good idea of what firefighting entails, and even if they don’t pursue it as a career, the skills they learned will help them in whatever path they choose.

As for Londyn, she doesn’t seem to be deterred by anything. She knows what she wants and is not afraid to do what it takes to get it.

When she got home from the academy, she essentially told her mother, Serena Randall, that her search for a career path was over.

“She was in love,” Randall said.

Londyn knew for sure this is what she wants to do.