Hero is a masculine noun. It means an illustrious warrior, a man admired for his achievements and qualities, the central male figure in a great epic or drama. A heroine, on the other hand, is the female equivalent. Or is she really his equal in the epic? We might as well have called her a hero-ess or a hero-ette, some kind of diminutive subset of real heroes. The heroine is the one who carries spears but does not hurl them. The one who dresses well but does not dirty her nails in the fight. The one who lies down in a glass casket, until revived by an awakening kiss.–Foreword by Jane Yolen, Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters
Women need to empower women. Even in the Bible, older women are encouraged to help younger women (Titus 2:4). Empowerment means to share your experiences and help other women traverse the hurdles. Public safety has a lot of them. Not only for women but also for men. What women have in addition is still an atmosphere of doubt and sometimes even hostility. “She’s not strong enough.” “She’s not tough enough.” “At the first sign of danger, she’ll be cowering in a corner and I’ll have to save her.” All of these sentiments have been said out loud and many more times crossed the minds of not only the men in public safety but both men and women in the community. The funny thing about blanketing all of a gender with the same fabric is that it is ridiculous. I know some men that would never pass the physical and mental tests it takes to be a police officer, medic or firefighter. I also know some women. But I also know many of both genders that are amazing in those roles. As, a woman in public safety, I recognize it is my duty to encourage other women to think outside the box of gendered occupations and consider putting on that badge or picking up that Halligan.
“Hey, I’m stronger than I thought in a lot of different ways. I’m capable of way more than I thought I was.” These are the words that Madison Firefighter, Gail Campbell used to describe to WISC-Channel 3 her entrance into the fire service 24 years ago. A time when there were even fewer women in public safety than there are today although men still greatly outnumber women in these roles. Police officer, medic or firefighter-these are still not common answers when you ask a young girl what she wants to be when she grows up. This is unfortunate and a group of women heroes in Madison (WI) is trying to change it.
CampHERO is an annual summer camp “designed to help girls develop courage, gain confidence and build character” while introducing girls grade K-12 to women police officers, EMT/paramedics, firefighters and dispatchers. This hands-on camp lets the girls experience some of the tasks required in these disciplines all while interacting with women who claim this calling as their duty. Not only are these young women learning valuable skills but also the self-confidence that is necessary to thrive in these male-dominated professions. Interacting with and hearing the stories of the ladies who live and breathe public safety influences these girls to dream big and train hard. The sky is no longer the limit as they learn they can get up there on the top of an aerial ladder.
The curriculum at CampHERO which host the K-3 girls during the day and the 4-12th graders at overnight camps was designed by public safety professionals with the guidance of the Girl Scouts. “Girls need to know that they are smart enough, strong enough and brave enough to pursue a paid or volunteer career as a police officer, fire fighter, EMT/paramedic or dispatcher,” the CampHERO website explains. “Nationally, only 13% of police and 3.6% of fire professionals are female, leaving girls with few role-models to inspire and guide.” CampHERO changes that bridging the gap and showing girls from a very young age that they can do anything career wise. Of course, the camp would not be successful without the support of the public safety professionals that strive to make a difference in the lives of girls, such as Lt. Jennifer Román, a career firefighter/paramedic with the City of Madison Fire Department and also CampHero’s Incident Commander, Officer Alexandra Nieves Reyes, Madison Police Department and CampHero’s Crew Leader & Instructor and many other dedicated volunteers.
Other camps designed to empower young women and encourage them to pursue public safety careers exist as well. Girls Can Do Anything summer camp hosted by the Oasis Center for Women and Girls in Tallahassee (FL) incorporates a day at Tallahassee Police Department. During this day, the campers, aged 5 to 15, watch their role models while learning about self-defense and being exposed to K-9s and the law enforcement experience. All of the activities are taught by female TPD investigators or officers.
Even if you can’t join in something like CampHERO or Girls Can Do Anything empower women everyday by just being out there. Participate in your department’s PR campaigns like Tip-A-Cop or Fill the Boot. Sign up for parade duty where you can encourage young women to consider public safety solely because they saw you and now know it is possible. Your image will stay with them. Mentor others. Is there a new woman on the department? Help her out. Help her be the best officer, medic or firefighter she can be. Make her someone you, and the guys, want as a back-up. Finally, share your experiences. Consider talking at schools, camps or other events. That little girl looking up at you in your uniform just might hold onto that picture as she works to become the next female public safety hero instead of only dreaming she will be rescued by one.