PROVO, Utah — The Lehi Fire Department has a number of new recruits who started their shifts earlier this month, but two of them are a first for the department.
Celeste Carter, 23, and Aubrey Freiberg, 22, are the Lehi Fire Department’s first full-time female firefighters. Fire Chief Jeremy Craft said having these two women on the team is important for the city.
“I want to represent the diversity of our community. Having these two on staff, I believe it helps us provide better service to the community,” he said. “They 100 percent deserve their position. They’ve earned exactly what they got. Female firefighters are becoming more prevalent and I think that’s a good thing.”
The training and recruitment process is the same for women and men, and Carter and Freiberg are proud of where they are, knowing they were and are held to the same standard as other employees.
“That’s what I demand of myself, and a good environment is all I need to thrive,” Freiberg said.
Carter’s father is a firefighter in Salt Lake City, and she has wanted to be a firefighter since she was just a kid. For Freiberg, the choice came later in life, and fits with her love of the medical field. But both say it’s the perfect fit.
“It’s a challenging job, and you never know what’s going to show up. I love all the different things you can specialize in,” Carter said, explaining that firefighters get to work with motors, on big trucks, and can specialize in ice rescues, heavy rescues, even rope rescues. “It’s one of the few job opportunities where you’ll never get stuck. You can always grow. It’s one of those jobs you can do a little bit of everything.”
Neither Carter nor Freiberg has felt truly discriminated against yet for their gender. Carter joked that the only time she was singled out during training was because an instructor gave her advice on how to carry a large, heavy item — but the advice wasn’t aimed at her gender. His advice was how to heft the item to compensate for her shortness.
Still, Carter mentioned that there is a lack of visibility in the field for interested females.
“There are not that many mentors to reach out to. That’s hard. But everything else, it’s just people doing a job. I definitely think more women should be in the fire service. It’s just not well-known this is a job for women as well as men,” she said.
Pleasant Grove firefighter Sarah Domyan, 40, has been firefighting since 1996, working in Ohio, Wisconsin, the Salt Lake City area, and now here. She also loves the variety, challenge and excitement of the job, but she’s had fight stereotypes in the business since day one.
“Your experience depends on your co-workers,” she said, explaining that she’s come across different types of men in the service, and has struggled with the ones who see it as a “macho” thing, or judge other workers by how much they can bench press.
She’s been in some departments where the attitude seems to be: “We don’t think you can do this job because you’re small and a woman, prove to us you can.” Other departments are opposite, like her experience at Pleasant Grove Fire Department.
“From day one, it hasn’t been ‘We don’t think you can do this, prove us wrong.’ It’s been, ‘We know you can do this, now show us what you can do.’ You still need to prove yourself, but they believe in you,” she said.
In fact, Domyan has only been full time with Pleasant Grove since April, but earlier this month she was named Firefighter of the Year for Pleasant Grove — an award voted on by her co-workers.
“It’s huge to me. It means a lot,” she said of the award. “Being a female in the fire service isn’t always the easiest, but knowing they appreciate me, and see me as capable and meeting or exceeding expectations, means a lot. It really does.”
Carter and Freiberg are also on this path, and one might expect them to earn accolades for their work as they progress in their careers. All three women realize they are an example to little girls, and other women — someone who can show others that firefighting can be a woman’s profession.
“Everyone brings something different to the table, and it makes us a more well-rounded crew,” Carter said.
These women join other unsung heroes around the county, women who quietly add to the ranks of other city fire departments. Among others, Orem, Saratoga Springs and Provo also count females on their teams. The Orem Fire Department employs two full-time female firefighters, and the Saratoga Springs Fire Department boasts one full-time and two part-time female firefighters. One of the Provo Fire Department’s female firefighters has been with the department for 27 years and is a battalion chief, the other is a firefighter/paramedic and has been with the city for five years.
“We need more females in the fire service. If you’re thinking about it, go for it. Women are leaning into more jobs they didn’t before. And with females and males together, we’re just stronger all around,” Freiberg said.
Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldextra.com