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New girl on the fire block
Lorene McCreary, 21, is an emergency medical technician and one of 16 fire recruits participating in an academy through Clallam County Fire District 3 to become volunteer firefighters. Sequim Gazette photo by Amanda Winters
by AMANDA WINTERS
Lorene McCreary never has been one to just stand around.
Active in high school sports like basketball, volleyball and soccer, the 2007 Sequim High School grad says she likes to be in the thick of it.
That’s why she became an emergency medical technician and is now on her way to becoming a volunteer firefighter with Clallam County Fire District 3.
McCreary, 21, clearly remembers her first call as an EMT last May — a compound fracture — and her first fire where she checked the vitals and oxygen tanks of the firefighters — a mobile home fire on Mill Road in November.
“It’s just one of those things,” she said of her love for the chaos that accompanies emergencies. “For some people new situations make them nervous, but it comes naturally to me.”
Entering the sixth week of the 12-week academy, McCreary said she’s excited to get hands-on firefighting experience and put the skills she’s learned so far to work.
In recent weeks the 16 recruits have learned about firefighter survival, practicing dragging each other to safety in full gear, forcible entry, fire behavior and how to handle different levels of fire extinguishers.
Every week the recruits spend about 12-14 hours in class or doing practicals, plus five or more hours of studying, McCreary estimated.
McCreary said she and her fellow recruits recently completed an exercise where all they did for an hour was put their gear on in less than a minute, take it off and do it again.
With the large boots, bulky pants and shirts, hats and air tanks going on and off, McCreary said she was winded.
“Just from that we were sweating,” she said. “Just from being in the gear.”
Instructors told the recruits eventually they’ll be wringing out their sweatshirts from all the sweat.
As the only woman in the class, McCreary said she can see she’ll have to push herself more physically than her male counterparts.
Tasks like pulling a fire hose around a barrel get more challenging when done in full gear with an oxygen tank on her back, she said.
Learning about fire behavior made McCreary become interested in pursuing a degree in fire science. She already knows she wants to become a certified paramedic, which would mean she could provide more advanced life support to people.
Becoming a career firefighter is also a possibility, she said.
The teamwork, structure and interaction that happens when responding to a fire or other emergency is intriguing to her.
Clallam County Fire District 3 has just one paid female firefighter/paramedic, out of 21 total. Fire Chief Steve Vogel said it is difficult for people to pass the intense physical agility test as well as certification tests, no matter if they are men or women.
McCreary said she doesn’t mind being one of 14 female volunteers in the department with 63 male volunteers.
“I have brothers and lots of guy friends,” she said with a laugh. “I can pitch it back.”
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.