When Celia Stout was 3, her house burned down. Her recollection is that firefighters were there to protect her family.
“I want to be able to help and protect other people like I was helped,” said Stout, now 17.
Stout was one of 22 young women who scaled, rappelled, and climbed their way through Olathe Fire Department’s second annual Hero Day on June 10. Hero Day, which stands for HerOlathe Day, gave participants an opportunity to jump in and experience simulated fire service operations in a controlled environment.
Suited up in authentic turnout gear, hard-working teams of 13- to17-year-olds performed search and rescue, hose-line deployment, emergency medical services and extrication.
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Like Stout, several participants came to HERO Day certain about long-term career plans for firefighting or emergency medical services.
Several of the young women were there to see what takes to be a firefighter. Firefighter Maureen Griffin’s daughter, Audrey, 15, attended so she could see what her mother’s job really entails.
“It fascinates her to learn what I do,” Griffin said. “Women may not think they can do this. But, they come here and now firefighting becomes a possibility. Diversity is important and each of us brings something to the table.”
Rebecca Hughes, 13, has plans for medical school but has always loved the idea of firefighting. “I like the thrill — and this experience is also going to look really good on the resume.”
Several of Saturday’s participants are enrolled in Olathe West’s 21st Century Public Safety Academy, where they learn skills to enter fire rescue or law enforcement professions. Regardless of career plans, many of the young women agreed they gained a new respect for what firefighters do every day.
Fire captain Kevin Joles, who directed Saturday’s EMS training, says many girls are reluctant to consider a firefighting career.
Here, he said, they learn about firefighting operations and also have the chance to experience the firefighters’ culture.
“This is family,” said firefighter Stephen Hill. “We are family first. Firefighting is also an opportunity to give back and be part of something bigger than yourself.”