Lebanon F.D. plans free fire academy for young women in June

The only requirements to participate in the Linn County Women’s Fire Academy are a positive attitude and a willingness to try new things.

The free two-day academy is open to Oregon women aged 16 to 19 years old, who are interested in the fire service or just want to learn more about it.

“They don’t have to be interested in fire service or even interested in the field to participate,” said Lebanon Fire District Lt. Erin Nunes. “If they’re looking for a weekend that they can go home and brag about to their friends and family, absolutely sign up.”

Nunes is leading the academy, which will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 23 to 24, at the Lebanon Fire District headquarters, 1050 W. Oak St.

Classes, which are all taught by female firefighters, will include fire suppression, emergency medical services, vehicle extrication and physical fitness as well as interviewing skills, teamwork and leadership skills.

Nunes said LFD has a high percentage of women, roughly 28 percent, compared to other fire departments in Oregon, which are about 7 percent women.

Desiree Barringer, an LFD engineer paramedic, has two decades of experience. She started when she was 18 years old.

Earlier in her career she did have people tell her she was not suited to be a firefighter because of her gender and size. It made her mentally stronger, she said.

“If you’re shorter, smaller and lighter you have to do things differently than somebody that’s a foot taller than you and heavier,” Barringer said. “You can still do it but there’s more to it.”

It’s taken her some time to overcome some of the effects of that, she said.

“In most departments the culture is changing but you still hear about departments that are behind the curve, I guess, and aren’t getting into gear,” Nunes said.

“We are so valuable to this organization and we don’t have to be the biggest, tallest, toughest people. We have our own benefits we bring to the department. Sometimes you need the smallest person.”

Being smaller is a benefit for tasks such as going into an attic or a small space, she said.

“Sometimes we have to work harder,” Nunes said. “Initially I had the hardest time starting that chainsaw. You just find a different technique that works better. And you find guys who never had that problem. They could do it the first pull every time.”

Nunes has been in the field for about 16 years, 11 years at LFD.

“I’ve always wanted to be a fire fighter,” she said. “My parents were in the medical field and I wanted to do something similar but different. Having an active job that is something different every single day is something that really appealed to me.”

Nunes is from Roseburg and volunteered at the Sutherlin Fire Department after high school while she was earning her degree to become a paramedic. She got hired at LFD right out of school and made Lebanon her home.

Hannah Blaine is a student intern at LFD. She’s only been there for about a month.

“I love it,” she said.

She’s had her sights set on a career in firefighting since she was about 6 years old.

“My little brother, he’s four years younger than me, had a birthday party at a fire station,” Blaine said.

“I was there for his birthday party and they let me climb inside the rig and put on their hats. When I was older, in high school, I took my first EMT class and I was like, ‘Yeah, this is what I want to do.’”

Barringer had an early interest as well.

She is from Sweet Home and when she was 10 years old her parents were friends of the fire chief at the time and arranged a ride-along.

She went to college on a softball scholarship, and after going on ride-alongs with a couple of departments, interned in North Bend. She eventually decided to move back to Sweet Home.

While she was persistent in her efforts, she said some of the physical agility tests were very difficult for her 18 years ago.

During training, she was warned that it only becomes more difficult with age.

“There was one test I could not pass,” Barringer said. “I just took it again here about seven months ago and a lot of it was just proving to myself. I couldn’t pass when I was 21 and struggled really hard with it. I’m 38 years old and destroyed the test.”

Nunes said she hopes the young women who participate in the academy will “come out and try this weekend as a tester to see what they’re capable of. By the end of the camp, they have gained so much confidence in themselves, and we do team building exercises also.”

Nunes participated in a similar camp in Portland last year. She still hears from some of the young women who participated, asking for advice or telling her about opportunities they have found.

“We form this amazing bond over the two days,” Nunes said. “It’s going to be taught by women firefighters as mentors for girls and that bond continues even now a year later.”

Deadline to apply is April 30. Click here to download an application.

Check out the YWFA Facebook page to learn about the other counselors and the academy.