The Final Five: Women with the Fresno Fire Department

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Of the 1.6 million firefighters in the United States, only 7 percent are women.

That's according to the National Fire Protection Association. Fresno Fire Chief Kerri Donis acknowledges the gender gap.

"I don't think that you're ever going to get away from this ever being a male-dominated profession," she said. "I think that will be forever."

Chief Donis and five other female firefighters will be retiring from the Fresno Fire Department within the next five to seven years.

There are no candidates coming up the ranks.

"I don't think that a lot of women ever think this is an option as a career," Donnis said. "I don't think it even crosses their mind. I know it didn't for me."

That seems to be true to at least a handful of young women we met working out recently in Clovis.

"That's never crossed my mind," says Ashley Dittmar, a Psychology Major at UC Riverside. "No one ever brought it up to me growing up. All I see on the news and TV is male firefighters. Never really see female."

"When I was in high school, I never really saw any sort of recruitment for that specific job position," says Realtor Aly Amaro. "It was sometimes for the Army and other sorts of careers, but never have I ever seen any sort of female recruitment for the fire department."

Fire investigator Christine Wilson was the only female in her class when she started with Fresno Fire in 2006.

She was thankful other women in the department paved the way for her.

"I didn't know any other females in the fire service until I came to the City of Fresno," she said. "I was very fortunate to have other females in our department, such as Capt. Kerry Wedemeyer, who was my mentor here at the Fresno Fire Department."

Wilson has no one coming behind her to mentor.

"Because a lot of the young women are not educated on what we do, that eliminates the opportunity," she said. "I think understanding why women aren't intrigued or why women aren't interested in what we do... where's the gap on why there are not that many women stepping up to enter this career?"

A study conducted for the National Fire Academy shows that firefighting is often steeped in family tradition, where for generations, fathers have introduced the career to their sons.
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