Fighting Fires and Making History: Women Get the Job Done in Arlingto

Published on March 22, 2016

Judith Brewer left some big boots to fill. But her Arlington County Fire Department continues to make strides in developing the next generations of career firefighters who just happen to be women.

Brewer became a first for the nation in 1974.

[caption id="attachment_7566" align="alignright" width="228"]Judith Brewer Judith Brewer[/caption]

She had been inspired while helping her then-husband prepare to launch his own firefighting career. Brewer—then Judith Livers—was able to overcome the physical and mental tests to land a spot in Clarendon's Fire Station 4, only to face years of tamping down the old stereotype that saving lives was "man's work."

By the time she retired in 1999, Brewer had made more history, becoming the nation's first female battalion chief. All along, her approach was simple. As she told NPR a few years ago, "Just keep plugging at it until people can see you can do the job."

Today there's still a need for such role models.

Since the start of the 21st century, the annual percentage of women firefighters in the U.S. has rarely peeked above 4 percent. But Arlington has managed to achieve roughly twice the national rate. In fact, with the ACFD recruitment class that graduated just last week, women account for 8.9 percent of the department's 292 uniformed firefighters.

It's an encouraging sign: Four out of the just-graduated 14-member recruit class were female—almost 29 percent.

[caption id="attachment_7567" align="alignleft" width="300"]Arlington's newest firefighters Arlington's newest firefighters[/caption]

And a new group of Judith Brewers could take a first step up the ladder this summer.

For the third year in a row, ACFD will host "Camp Heat," a free four-day immersion for female students, ages 15 to 18, to consider becoming firefighters or emergency medical technicians after high school or college.

[caption id="attachment_7570" align="alignright" width="263"]Camp Heat Camp Heat[/caption]

The overnight camp, taking place July 7-10 at Marymount University, includes physical training, emergency simulations, classes on gear and safety and even visits with on-duty fire station crews. Female ACFD staff provide the overnight supervision.

The deadline to apply for Camp Heat is Friday, April 1. Only 22 applicants will be selected.

For young women, it's a unique look at the job of saving lives--and it's bound to change a few lives as well.