Less than 4% of firefighters in Wake County are women – CBS 17 sits down with some of them

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — We often see and hear stories of firefighters protecting our community. It’s a career that’s overwhelmingly made up of men.

Less than 4% of firefighters nationwide, and in Wake County, are women.

Janet Miguel is a recruit for the Raleigh Fire Department. She’s in the early stages of her training.

“The training is really physically and mentally demanding, but so far I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Miguel.

She’s learning the ins and outs of EMS work, equipment handling, and more.

“I really like that I’m pushed by everybody else and it’s ultimately just making me a much stronger individual I think in a lot of different ways,” she said.

Miguel is the only woman in her class.

“I find sometimes I really wish I had another female recruit with me as sort of like a companion,” she said.

There are 20 different fire departments in all of Wake County and more than 1,800 firefighters. Only 64 of them are women.

“I am the only female in my department and it has been that way for my volunteer department as well,” said Brittany Hocutt with the Wake County Fire Marshals Office.

“When I started, I was the only one there,” said Capt. Anya Blackley with the Knightdale Fire Department.

“I was the first female ever on Wallace Fire Department,” said Lauren Deer, Northern Wake firefighter/chaplain.

We spoke with four current firefighters about what it’s like being part of the 3.5%.

“It’s something I was aware of when I came in,” said volunteer firefighter Katherine Woodley with Northern Wake.

We wanted to know why there aren’t more women firefighters.

A recent study in BioMed Research International found more than half of female firefighters surveyed nationwide report feeling shunned or isolated.

Forty-three percent said they experienced verbal harassment. Nearly a third said they experienced sexual advances.

“I think it’s sad because knowing the joy I’ve experienced as a female firefighter, for them not to be able to experience what we experience is sad,” said Deer.

These women tell CBS 17 they haven’t experienced discrimination.

“I have not had any problems with anybody treating me any differently,” said Blackley.

They say they have had positive responses for being some of the few women in their field, especially when it comes to younger girls in need of help.

“Have you all experienced that before where people would rather talk to a woman over a man?” asked CBS 17’s Bridget Chapman.

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” the women answered.

Woodley said she’s even experienced that while at the grocery store with her fellow firefighters.

“A little girl just looks at me and runs up to me and looks at me and I’m like ‘Hey,’ and she just hugs my leg and just runs back off and it was just really cool to see that she could connect with me just because I was a female,” said Woodley.

She and the others like Blackley said they’d like to see more women in the departments.

“Go for it. You never know until you try,” said Blackley.

They also know the physical labor is a deterrent to many, but they say the rewards are endless.

“We see people in their worst of times and if we can make that a little bit better, that’s what I look forward to,” said Blackley.

Whether they’ve been in fire service for two decades like Blackley or are just starting out like Miguel, they aim to inspire.

“I’m definitely encouraging more women to come out here and give this a shot,” said Miguel.

The women told us they’d like to see more recruiting for females in the schools.

There are also a lot of volunteer opportunities at fire departments that aren’t as physically demanding for anyone interested.

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