CEDAR RAPIDS — For 19-year-old Molly Duckett, firefighting was something she never considered as career — until about two years ago.
Duckett, who lives in Solon, said she was introduced to the idea by her high school track coach, who also was a firefighter with the Cedar Rapids Fire Department.
“He was telling a story at practice one day about a space heater that caught on fire and I thought that sounded interesting,” she said.
Duckett said her coach suggested she go on a ride along with firefighters at the department, and she jumped at the chance.
“After that I was hooked,” she said.
"It makes you hopeful for the future, because it’s women like the ones here, who have been doing the job for 10, 15, 20 years, that are showing us that women are just as capable as the men in this job.”
- Nicole Heims
Cedar Rapids firefighter trainee
Last year, Duckett participated in the fire department’s first-ever Fully-Involved Young Women’s Fire Academy, which aims to encourage women ages 15 to 20 to consider careers in the fire fighting and prevention services.
The experience, she said, “sealed the deal” for her, affirming that becoming a firefighter was truly what she wanted.
This year, Duckett has returned to the program — this time as a leader in training to share her experience with the new class of young women. Duckett also recently was hired as a part-time, on-call firefighter at the Ankeny Fire Department near Des Moines.
“This program is awesome because it just gets girls thinking about firefighting,” she said. “I never thought about it until I was nudged in that direction and I think that’s what this program does for these girls — it shows them that they can do this and that they are just as qualified as the guys.”
Now in its second year, the program was designed to boost recruitment of female firefighters and smash the idea that firefighting is a man’s job, said Nicky Stansell, public education manager with the Cedar Rapids Fire Department.
“Firefighting is traditionally seen as a man’s job … so a lot of women don’t even know it’s a possibility to apply or even think about becoming a firefighter,” she said. “So we really wanted to not only encourage women to apply, but to show them that they can do the job — they are physically capable — and give them the tools that they need to be able to feel confident enough to go through the application process.”
The academy highlights many aspects of the job, Stansell said, including hose handling, CPR, fire rescue, vehicle extrication and a version of the physical testing firefighters have to pass.
“We really wanted to incorporate a lot of different elements of the job and teach them lots of the different skills they would need to know, and we really wanted it to be hands-on so they are actually doing the work,” she said.
Among the young women training this year is Nicole Heims, 18, who says she has known she wanted to be a firefighter since she was a little girl.
“My dad is a firefighter,” she said. “And when I was growing up, my dad would come home from work, me and my sisters would run up to him and be like, ‘What did you do yesterday?’ and he would tell stories about his work … and all the people he’d saved. It’s really inspired me to be selfless and pursue a career in a field where it’s your job to help others.”
Heims already has some experience under her belt as a volunteer firefighter with the Jefferson-Monroe Volunteer Fire Department and is certified as an emergency medical technician. But she decided to do the training to get a taste of what a career in fire services would entail.
“It’s extremely empowering to see a department open its doors and encourage women to come in and be a part of what they do. It makes you hopeful for the future, because it’s women like the ones here, who have been doing the job for 10, 15, 20 years, that are showing us that women are just as capable as the men in this job.”
Though challenging, Heims said, the training program has given her confidence and reassured her that firefighting is what she was “born to do.”
“It gives me even more inspiration than I had before,” she said. “The women who are leading this camp have shared so many of their personal experiences as firefighters, where they have faced challenges or felt scared, and that lets us know it’s ok be feel scared or unsure, but that we can push past that and get the job done. It’s very reassuring and inspiring.”
In the fall, Heims will be heading off to the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls where she will pursue a nursing degree, but that doesn’t take away from her determination to follow in her dad’s footsteps.
“My dad has always inspired me to be the best person I can be,” she said. “He’s my idol, and this training has definitely reaffirmed my decision to become a firefighter. It really all comes down to the fact that I get to save lives, I get to help people and that’s what I want to do.”
Stansell said seeing young women like Duckett and Heims gain a sense of their capabilities during the academy is why this program was designed.
“It’s not just about recruiting women,” she said. “It’s about building confidence and leadership skills and showing these women what they can do.”
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