The Olathe Fire Department initiated a battalion of daring new HEROs June 8.
During the fourth annual HERO Day, which stands for HerOlathe Day, 31 young women suited up in authentic turnout gear to train like professional firefighters. The participants, ages 13 to 23, fervently jumped into practice, simulating fire service operations at department headquarters.
They climbed aerial ladders, pulled firehoses through buildings, learned how to tie firefighter knots and performed extrication. They also assembled Z-rigs for rescue operations and navigated tight spots though an entanglement maze while wearing air packs.
While some participants attended HERO day to explore the idea of this career, others were certain about their long-term plans to become firefighters. Most, however, shared a common goal — the desire to help others through their work.
“Helping people is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Ashley Wheeler, HERO day participant. “There’s something indescribable about being a firefighter and saving people’s lives.”
Maureen Griffin, Olathe firefighter and coordinator of HERO day, agreed.
After leaving her first profession as a marketing director to be a stay-at-home mom, Griffin was in search of a new career as her children started school.
“My kids were going to school and I was asking, ‘What should I do now?’” she said.
Two friends, both women and fire department captains, inspired her new direction.
“We were training for a half-marathon and they asked me if I’d ever thought about firefighting,” Griffin said. “They told me, ‘You’re always wanting to help people and firefighting would be a great fit for you.’”
Though she had never considered this career path, Griffin enrolled in a couple of introductory courses and fell in love with firefighting. After completing her coursework, she joined the Olathe Fire Department in 2012.
Nationally, Griffin and her fellow women firefighters are a minority in their field. They make up just 6% of the overall firefighting force. Griffin is passionate about introducing women to the field and increasing those numbers.
“It’s important for women to become firefighters,” she said. “Women think and respond in a unique way, and we create a more diverse workplace. When someone calls 911, and men and women show up, we make a better crew.
“People often ask why we have so many tools on our trucks. The reason is, we don’t know what we’re showing up for, and we want to show up with what we need. I view our crew that way. With our diversity, we bring more to the table and are better equipped to help our community.”
Though the overall number of women firefighters is small, their interest in this career is on the increase. Griffin believes HERO Day is an opportunity to introduce them to the field, so they can experience, firsthand, what it takes to be a firefighter.
“There are lots of young women who aren’t sure what career they want to go for, but know they want to help others,” she said. “They may not have considered firefighting as one of those options. We’re opening their eyes and letting them know this job is available to them and they can do it.”