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Female Minn. firefighters, athletes create fitness program to inspire women

Twin Cities Female Firefighter Fitness was created to encourage women to consider a career in firefighting

By James Walsh
Star Tribune

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Sarah Reasoner, Martha Fecht and Megan Roesler Turner have very different backgrounds and came to consider careers as St. Paul firefighters in very different ways.

Reasoner was a track and field All-American and one-time bodybuilder and powerlifter who wanted a career with a deeper purpose. Fecht, a St. Paul fire captain, went to Montana for a vacation and became a paramedic there. A Maplewood native, she leaped at the chance to return. Roessler Turner was inspired to become a paramedic by the firefighters who revived a heart attack victim in the coffee shop where she worked. She is now a trainer at the academy.

All three survived the gantlet of training — men and women must meet the same physical requirements. But they know that many women get discouraged from trying.

They’ve started Twin Cities Female Firefighter Fitness (TCF3) to not only encourage women to consider firefighting, but to infuse them with the confidence, strength and stamina to win the job. Eye On St. Paul met with them last week to talk about their work empowering women to explore a male-dominated career.

This interview was edited for length.

Q: Tell me a little bit about how you’re trying to make firefighting a career option for more women.

Reasoner: It’s twofold. First, I don’t think very many girls grow up thinking, “I want to be a firefighter.” It’s not something that’s on a lot of women’s radars. The second part of what we’re doing is fitness and confidence because there’s a large gap in the testing process and the percentage of women being able to successfully pass the test. I think biology plays a role in that and it is what it is.

We had a testing process this last fall and we saw the numbers — from women who said they were interested to the number that took the test — just drop. We went from 64 women who filled out interest cards down to 30 taking the practice tests.

Q: Out of the 30 who took the test, how many passed?

Reasoner: Twelve. The reason TCR3′s mission statement is something along the lines of for women by women is we thought that being able to have a platform that is female-heavy creates a bit of a safer space. While you’re going to have to learn how to be physical and deal with a whole lot of men on the job, that initial step is boosting confidence. We thought if we’re surrounded by a community of like-minded women that are encouraging you, we think there’s a lot of power in that.

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Fecht: We have lots of women on the job who are trainers now. We have single women; we have women with families. We have all walks of life. We’ve got women who came on the job in their 30s who had careers before they did this, who have gone through the process, who have struggled through academies that have been in their shoes. We’re hoping that we can make some connection with these women and help build them up so that when they come and take the tests, they feel strong.

Q: How many women are firefighters in St. Paul ?

Fecht: 27.

Q: Out of how many?

Fecht: 434.

Q: Why is it important to get more women on the department?

Roesler Turner: Well, I think it’s important for what women can bring to the job. In addition to all of the things that we can do that are equal to men, women have another skill set that we can bring to the job. I also think it’s important that we match the community that we serve. There are a lot of calls that we go on, especially medical EMS calls, where it’s incredibly beneficial to have a female on the rig to be able to help that patient.

One example of that is if we go on a sexual assault call, and there’s a young female and you know, she’s not feeling very comfortable. She’s just been violated and it’s beneficial to have a female who she might feel more comfortable with in terms of letting us do the vitals and the exam on her or even just be with her in that moment.

Q: Why is it beneficial to have a woman at the top of the ladder on a burning building?

Roesler Turner: Because we are just as capable as men at doing those things. And we are strong and powerful, and we can do this job just as well as the men can. And the point of this group is that we just want to show other women that they are capable as well.

Q: Do you have a group of people to work with?

Reasoner: We’re building that. We did get help from human resources for the list of women who applied last fall, and we sent out an email blast to that group.

Fecht: Our goal is to have a monthly workout, for any of these women who are interested. Working out once a month is not going to be enough to get them ready to take the test and be successful. But it’s an opportunity for them to have a landing spot.

Q: Who came up with the idea?

Fecht: Sarah (Reasoner)

Reasoner: It started with the testing process last fall that I had helped with. They had these three dates where you could come out and do the physical part of the test and practice. And that led to some frustration for me because I had about six or seven women say, “Hey, can I get your number? Can I follow you on social media or something? And I have questions.” And I didn’t have answers.

I came into our training chief, Chief Jeremy Baker, and I said this is what I’m seeing. I told him they had six weeks to get ready for this test — and three times to pick up stuff. Women can’t pick up a 175-pound dummy like that on the first try. We need time. We need practice. We need coaching. We had a three-hour conversation in his office and suddenly there was TCF3.

Q: What do you think will come from this?

Reasoner: Last night [ June 11 ] was a good little glimpse into it. We had nine women who didn’t know each other and by the end of the 30-minute workout, we had a competition. We had women competing against each other. And we had high fives and dancing around and yelling and clapping and encouraging. And then after the workout, we had questions, “Hey, what do you do? Where are you from?”

It was community building, networking and fitness. All that stuff wrapped into one. Why wouldn’t I want to do this? This is great.

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