A participant gets advice during a forced-entry lesson during the Future Women in EMS/Fire Workshop on Saturday, June 22, 2024, at the South County Fire Training Center in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A participant gets advice during a forced-entry lesson during the Future Women in EMS/Fire Workshop on Saturday, June 22, 2024, at the South County Fire Training Center in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

To fill gap, Snohomish County tries new approach to recruit women firefighters

About 30 women tried on bunker gear, pulled rope and worked chainsaws at a first-of-its-kind workshop Saturday.

EVERETT — As smoke billowed out of South County Fire’s training center, five women came rushing in to pull out someone inside.

Though no fire — or victim — burned inside, more than two dozen young women stood by watching, picturing themselves running into the burning building.

The smoking building was part of a demonstration to recruit more women into the fire service. South County Fire and Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue hosted a Future Women in Fire and EMS event Saturday to show prospective recruits the ropes.

The workshop was the first of its kind in Snohomish County.

Across the county, fewer than 10% of firefighters are women. The women in those positions are tired of feeling outnumbered by men.

“We are made stronger by diverse backgrounds and experience,” said Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue firefighter and paramedic Jessica Hanna.

On Saturday, about 30 women spent the day hauling fire hoses, prying open doors, operating chainsaws and lifting 150-pound dummies to simulate a day on the job, all while fire gear weighed them down.

Nearly all were completely new to fire service training.

Brighton Summers was one of the newbies. She called the workshop overwhelming, but “the good kind of overwhelming.”

As someone who is curious about the fire service, Summers said it’s helpful to learn from female leaders about what it’s really like.

“It’s an opportunity to help people every day and make a difference in your community,” Hanna said. “It’s a very diverse job, there’s a lot of problem solving.”

In her 33rd year of fire service, South County Fire Capt. Nicole Picknell is all too familiar with being the only woman in the room.

“When I was a young girl, I never saw a female firefighter,” Picknell said.

Picknell got a knack for the fire service after watching the television show “Emergency!” as a kid.

After that, she knew she had found her dream career.

“I wouldn’t do anything else,” Picknell said. “I honestly don’t know when I want to retire because I love it so much.”

But it wasn’t always a smooth path. She remembered hearing that because she was a woman, she didn’t belong.

“I grew up in a world where men had all the positions, so to see women in these positions, it would have been amazing to know that I could be that,” she said.

Picknell was “in awe” of the turnout Saturday.

“I’ve never seen that in my career,” she said. “We are something special.”

Cam Swain, an EMT student and hopeful firefighter, wants to learn more life-saving skills. They are “so important” for her community and her children, she said.

Currently, she’s a trainer at a women’s gym, where she helps women find strength in themselves.

“I love seeing women surprise themselves,” Swain said.

Her four sons are excited for her new career path, she said.

Though she’s already in EMT school and knows she wants to pursue a fire career, the workshop gave her a better idea of what she’s getting herself into.

“It was cool to get your hands on it, and feel the weight of things,” she said.

It takes tenacity and compassion to make a good firefighter, Picknell and Hanna agreed.

Good firefighters are willing to be humble, get knocked down and come right back up, Hanna said.

And they can be feminine too, Picknell noted.

“It’s important for these girls to see that we can wear nails and lipstick and lashes,” she said. “I never knew I could be feminine and not have to act like a guy to be here.”

Jenelle Baumbach: 360-352-8623; jenelle.baumbach@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jenelleclar.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Kim Skarda points at her home on a map on Thursday, June 20, 2024 in Concrete, Washington. A community called Sauk River Estates has a very steep slope above it. There is a DNR-approved timber sale that boarders the estate properties, yet they were not consulted about the sale before approval. The community has already appealed the sale and has hired their own geologist to conduct a slope stability report at the site. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Beneath steep slope, Concrete neighbors fear landslides from logging above

Nielsen Brothers plans to cut 54 acres of timber directly behind the community of 83 homes. Locals said they were never consulted.

Law enforcement respond to a person hit by a train near the Port of Everett Mount Baker Terminal on Thursday, June 27, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
2 killed in waterfront train crashes were near Mukilteo ‘quiet zone’

In June, two people were hit by trains on separate days near Mukilteo Boulevard. “These situations are incredibly tragic,” Everett’s mayor said.

Rob Plotnikoff takes a measurement as a part of the county's State of Our Waters survey at Tambark Creek in Bothell, Washington on Monday, July 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Snohomish County stream team bushwhacks a path to healthier waterways

This summer, the crew of three will survey 40 sites for the State of Our Waters program. It’s science in locals’ backyards.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
4th suspect arrested after Mountlake Terrace home robbery

Police arrested Taievion Rogers, 19, on Tuesday. Prosecutors charged his three alleged accomplices in April.

A 10 acre parcel off of Highway 99, between 240th and 242nd Street Southwest that the city of Edmonds is currently in the process of acquiring on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds ditches $37M Landmark public park project off Highway 99

The previous mayor envisioned parks and more in south Edmonds, in a historically neglected area. The new administration is battling budget woes.

Edmonds school official sworn in as Mount Vernon supe

Victor Vergara took his oath of office last week. He was assistant superintendent of equity and student success in Edmonds.

Photos by Olivia Vanni / The Herald
Gabby Bullock sits on her bed in a room she shares with another housemate on June 14 in Everett.
‘We don’t have openings’: SnoCo recovery houses struggle with demand

Advocates say the homes are critical for addiction recovery. But home prices make starting a sober living house difficult.

Melinda Grenier serves patrons at her coffee truck called Hay Girl Coffee during the third annual Arlington Pride event in Arlington, Washington on Sunday, June 2, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Food safety team defends its work: it’s a ‘high pressure, thankless’ job

Management tried to set the record straight about long permit delays in Snohomish County.

Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Olivia Vanni/The Herald)
Global tech outage leaves a mark on Snohomish County

The CrowdStrike software update hit some systems at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and briefly disrupted 911 operations.

Performers joust during the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire at Sky Meadows Park in Snohomish, Washington, on Sunday, Aug. 06, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Royalty and revelry: The spirit of the Renaissance comes to Monroe

The annual Renaissance fair will open its doors every weekend from July 20 to Aug. 18

Trees and foliage grow at the Rockport State Park on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 in Rockport, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
When you get lost in WA, what’s the cost to get rescued? Surprisingly little

Washington’s volunteer search and rescue teams save lives without costly bills.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.