There are no gender quotas requiring women to be hired. The four women Flagler County firefighter/paramedics are here because they want to be.
Caryn Prather is a busy helicopter flight medic and lead field training officer. She coordinates paramedic training under medical director Dr. Kristin McCabe of Florida Hospital Flagler. Prather, Lt. Eileen Lee, Rebecca Palmer and paramedic/pump operator Maryanne Houston all rotate shifts between the ambulance and fire engine to hone their skills in all areas.
The first known female firefighter in the U.S., Molly Williams, took her place with the men on the drag-ropes during the New York blizzard of 1818 and helped pull the pumper to a fire through the deep snow.
Modern day advances in equipment, technology and training have leveled the field for women. For example, the “Jaws of Life,” introduced 20 years ago, are capable of lifting a train locomotive, and are found on every fire engine in Flagler County with three additional units available for backup.
If just athletic prowess was measured during training, males may have an edge. But the hiring process also includes an evaluation of an applicant’s ability to work efficiently, intelligently and cooperatively under pressure, testing their reactions under hypothetical situations and ability to adapt to station life.
During the spring physical fitness evaluation and firefighters combat challenge, all firefighters are evaluated on rigorous job skills: running up and down stairs while shouldering the water hose, wielding sledgehammers, climbing ladders and accurately knocking down cones with water streams.
According to training Chief Lenny Ensalaco, “Nine out of 10 times, when they are in full gear, you can’t tell the difference between male and female. They all perform at a highly professional level. There’s no smoke and mirrors here.”