Sparking change: Empowering girls to dream big

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI)- “I had little girls come up to me and say, ‘Are you really a firefighter?” Yes, ma’am. You can be one too.”

The Columbus Fire and Rescue Department currently has 3threefemale firefighters, more than most departments have had in their history.

The department had a six-year gap in female firefighters on the force until Sally Kerstetter joined the team.

“I realized that there were no women firefighters at the time. So I jumped on board and just followed my heart and that’s where it led me.”

Raevonn Reece will be returning from maturity leave in a few weeks.

She says she was nervous about starting a family with how long she was on light duty and away from the job to nurture the baby, but realized the department’s support was ever-present.

“Don’t walk into this career thinking ‘How am I gonna handle a family? This is your second family. And they understand you have a family.”

Studies show only 9 percent of firefighters are women.

Victoria Culpepper is also a firefighter with the Columbus Fire and Rescue Department.

“A lot of women never perceived this as an option for a job. It’s just always been a very male-dominated field. Seeing other women do it and go through rigorous training and work on fire scenes, it was just like ‘you know what, I think I got this I can do this.”

She remembers an incident she responded to that validated what she had known all along.

“On a car fire, once I took my face piece and helmet off, the little girl that happened to be in the car said, ‘Mommy look! It’s a girl firefighter and it just touched my heart. That might’ve put just an idea in her mind: ‘Hey this is something I can do. I can do what guys can do. I can be anything I wanna be. That one moment right there makes it all worth it.'”

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