Thirty-one percent of recent grads from the Manatee Technical College (MTC) Fire Academy are women, a new record.
The population growth in the Tampa Bay area, a rising demand for more fire stations, a retiring workforce and increased diversity is fueling the rise of female firefighter. Many of the women are using their degree to elevate to higher-paying jobs including fire inspector, fire investigator and paramedic.
"When I first joined the fire service, we were all white males," says MTC Fire Academy coordinator Chief Henry Sheffield.
Sheffield became a firefighter in 1973.
"Nowadays it's just a wise way to do business," says Sheffield. "You have to make sure your workforce reflects what the community looks like. So it's not unusual to see more women entering the fire service."
The occupation is also now more than a display of brawn. There are rescue procedures and community outreach programs.
"What else can you bring to that job besides squirting water and chopping doors?" says Sheffield.
One of these recent graduates is 44-year-old Virginia Register, a former Realtor who needed a life change. She pursued EMT training before coming to the Fire Academy.
"All my older friends were trying to talk me out of it," says Register. "Those are things I did not want to hear."
She more than kept up with all the men and women in her graduating class during the 398 hours of training. She often was required to haul massive amounts of gear up the long steps of "burn building" practice facility.
When she was done with her training, she knew how to do an important job, and she was in incredible shape.
"If you want to be inspired in life, I recommend going into fire service," says Register.
For more information on the MTC's Fire Academy, visit manateetech.edu/career-prep/fire-fighter/.