VALHALLA, N.Y. – Nineteen female firefighters from departments across Westchester and Orange counties took part in the first annual, two-day Women’s Firefighting Weekend at the Westchester Fire Training Facility in order to “build confidence in their skills” and develop camaraderie with each other.
Armonk Fire Chief Luci Labriola-Cuffe, who is also a fire training coordinator at the facility, planned the event and said she was “more than happy” about a “real positive experience.”
“The idea was for them to get some networking and also build confidence in their skills so that when they go to a fire scene, they’re more confident in what they’re doing,” said Labriola-Cuffe.
“They can ask quick questions, if they want, without being embarrassed to ask questions. This gives them the ability and the confidence to know that they can do it, so then on a real fire scene, they will do it and they won’t get pushed aside.”
Saturday, which ran from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., consisted of vehicle extrication, hose-line stretches, forcible entry on doors and climbing ladders into buildings. On Sunday, lasting from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., the firefighters took part in live fire scenarios in which they completed search-and-rescues, additional hose-line stretches and extinguished fires.
Firefighter Maureen Hickey from the Pleasantville Fire Department said that it was “definitely a great experience” because she was able to take part in many different drills.
“I’ve never done an extrication before and that’s what we did yesterday,” said the almost two-year firefighter. “So that was definitely a learning experience for me that I definitely want to take more classes in.”
Eileen Sacharewitz, a Bedford Village firefighter for more than two years, was thankful for the confidence she gained this weekend.
“It was a huge confidence builder because I got to do so much more hands-on stuff,” she said of working on vehicle extrication and climbing a ladder into a building for the first time. “The more you come down here, the more comfortable you’re going to get with yourself being in the gear, being on the fire ground and working with others.”
Westchester County Department of Public Safety spokesperson Kieran O’Leary thought that the weekend was “a great experience for the people who came,” but was also hoping it attracted other women to join their local fire departments.
“The primary goal was to encourage women currently in the fire service, but an additional goal that we had for this event is to encourage more women out there to consider the career in the volunteer fire service,” said O’Leary.
Labriola-Cuffe said that given the turnout, “We’ll be able to do it again next year. I know in the future, it’ll get bigger and bigger with word of mouth,” she said.
The participating fire departments were: