‘HERo Day’ encourages young girls to aim for jobs in emergency services

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Firefighting is usually considered a man’s job, but one program is hoping to change that and show young girls that they can be heroes, too.

Nearly 200 girls showed off their skills Saturday as part of the Memphis Fire Department and Girl Scouts' annual "HERo Day" at the Chester Anderson Training Campus.

"If she can see it, she can be it" – that’s the motto ingrained into the minds of young women attending the event, which teaches girls in grades 6-12 about firefighting and other emergency service careers, and gives them the chance to try it out themselves.

"I get to hang out with some of my old friends that were here last year, and I just get to experience doing the rappelling again and I think that’s really fun, too," said 16-year-old Sara Beasley.

Sara's dad is a second-generation firefighter, so for her, it’s an opportunity to figure out if she wants to follow in his and her grandfather’s footsteps.

"To be able to help people is a good thing in life and I like doing that, so I think I could go into this maybe," she said.

But even more important than that, her dad says, is the confidence boost these young women get from realizing what they’re capable of.

"When I was a kid, firefighting wasn’t an option for females. It was a man-only job," said MFD Division Chief Thomas Beasley.

The girls learned how to use a powerful fire hose, watched search and rescue dogs in action, were timed getting into firefighting gear and even rappelled down the side of a six-story tower.

"I just can’t describe how emotional it is to see these young ladies excited and the possibility of doing something maybe they never thought about before," said MFD Fire Director Gina Sweat.

Appointed in 2015, Sweat is the city’s first female fire director. Growing up, she never even dreamed of the career she has now.

"I never had any idea that girls could be firefighters or even really EMTs or paramedics," she said.

Only about 7 percent of firefighters in the U.S. are women, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

But Sweat hopes that with the help of this program, that will change.

"One of my big dreams is that one of these girls will actually join the fire department before I retire," she said.

There are currently 50 women working as firefighters with MFD, according to Sweat.