LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — In nearly a decade, the number of women employed by the Lexington Fire Department has more than doubled. The agency is working around the clock to recruit and retain more female firefighters. Its current staff includes about 30 women with four more in the academy.
One of the LFD’s best recruitment tools is the Brenda Cowan Fire Camp, designed to teach young women what it takes to become a firefighter. The women learn to advance hose lines, climb ladders, and repel from ropes, among other hands-on training.
The camp’s namesake, Brenda Cowan, was the city’s first Black female firefighter. She died in the line of duty, but the department is honoring her legacy through the camp.
Cowan was also passionate about mentoring kids, which the LFD is continuing through career pathway programs for Fayette County high school students at Eastside Technical Center.
Retention is another priority, and the LFD is trying to build a more inclusive environment for its female firefighters. Most recently, the team updated its uniforms to include women’s sizes. The move was made to ensure their current fleet of female firefighters feels comfortable and confident on the job.
“Ultimately, it comes down to inclusion. What kind of barriers can we breakdown to make young women feel included as part of this culture,” said Battalion Chief Jordan Saas. “That way, they feel comfortable and confident to carry out the tasks that we are requiring them here.”
Blaire Cook has been a Lexington firefighter for almost three years, but she originally wanted to be a nurse. Therefore, in college, she got certified as an EMT to get clinical experience before graduate school. Instead, that job led her to a future as a firefighter.
Introduced to the profession by fellow female EMTs, Cook attended the Brenda Cowan Fire Camp in 2020 to learn more. She was sold after that. Her biggest take-away was that there’s nothing holding women back from doing the job.
“I am so much more of a confident person than I used to be before joining the fire department,” said Cook. “I mean, physically, emotionally, intellectually, the fire department has challenged me in ways that I have never imagined, and it’s made me so much stronger of a person.”
Cook is amazed by the challenges she conquers every day as well as what she can do with a power tool. Despite being outnumbered by men, she said she never feels uncomfortable at work and enjoys being competitive with them.
Anyone interested in becoming a firefighter can submit an application before the end of January. Once applied, be patient; it takes about a year to complete the process.