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Women’s Public Safety Day in Santa Rosa a hit with attendees of all ages, genders

Organizers already planning for bigger, better event next year.|

Organizers of Santa Rosa’s first-ever Women’s Public Safety Day already are planning next year’s event, hoping for broader advance outreach and greater participation at the second-annual affair.

But they were thrilled to see so many people of all ages turn out Saturday to peek into the world of firefighting, law enforcement, emergency medical response and related professions — especially the girls and young women.

Recruitment challenges across the country have made it difficult to ensure sufficiently skilled and able candidates are entering fire service in the first place. So ensuring there are women and people of color in the ranks, in Santa Rosa and elsewhere, is as big a hurdle as ever, Santa Rosa Fire Capt. Cori Rickert said.

One way to change that is to ensure young people are exposed to women in public safety jobs so they imagine themselves pursuing the same line of work.

“Some people have not seen this as a career path,” Rickert said.

An estimated 350 attendees came and went during the four-hour inaugural event at the Santa Rosa Fire Department Training Center on West College Avenue. They were treated to demonstrations by Santa Rosa fire and police personnel, as well as the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, Henry 1, including several staged rescues and a structure fire at the training tower.

About 17 public service agencies from Oakland to Petaluma, San Francisco to San Rafael, joined Sonoma County fire, police and ambulance services in hosting booths.

Many were staffed with women in professions long dominated by men who welcomed a unique opportunity for young women to seek advice and information about fire camps, explorer groups, volunteer and training opportunities from a diverse array of people and agencies.

Participants also could just ask what different jobs were like and how to get there.

“Being in the know is the hardest part of this career,” said Joanelle Cook, a 26-year career firefighter and veteran of the Oakland Fire Department, whose staff is not quite 10% female.

It’s difficult to navigate the pathway through training, testing and job acquisition, and you need mentors and a support system, she said.

“It’s a career you really have to want,” said retired Oakland firefighter Julie Green. “It’s not just a job.”

Sy’rai Mims, 18, was among those hoping to make an impression and pick up a few tips toward her career goal of entering fire service some day soon. She already had completed a couple of fire camps and is enrolled at a firefighting class at Santa Rosa Junior College.

“From a really young age — I would say 7 or 8 — is when I first started being interested,” she said as she entered the event for what would be a long stay. “I’m excited. I love this.”

Rickert and Assistant Fire Marshal Kemplen Robbins organized the event as part of the recruitment and diversity mission outlined in the fire department’s recently implemented strategic plan.

Though Saturday’s event was targeted toward girls and women, aged 15 to 20, “we quickly realized that this is for everyone,” Robbins said.

Molly Fabian, at just 9, was an eager, interested contributor to the day, for instance, chatting it up with women at various booths, checking out the helicopter, learning how to run the police drone and trying her hand at pulling fire hose.

Her mom, Ronnie Fabian, said the Sonoma girl makes friends with all the officers in town and last year made Christmas ornaments for them that resembled badges as her 4-H community service project.

Molly Fabian said she likes having officers that are friends, and wants to be one day. But she’s got her eye on being a police academy teacher.

Another attendee, Aubrey Taylor, 15, is considering a future in fire service and was alerted to the event by her grandfather, a retired Santa Rosa Police officer.

Saturday she learned about upcoming fire camps and how to become a volunteer. “I’ve been interested in helping since the Tubbs fire,” she said.

“This whole thing is great,” Ronnie Fabian said. “I hope they do it every year.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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