On a clear, breezy day a group of girls in their early and late teens lined up in front of a couple of fire trucks tucked away in the piney woodlands of Smithville, Texas. They were learning how to use low-powered fire hoses – and were getting drenched in the process.
These girls are part of the inaugural class of the Texas A&M Forest Service’s “Sisters in Fire” program. It’s run solely by women wildland firefighters, and is open only to teen girls interested in the field.
“This has been a great experience working with some people my age,” said 16-year-old Chessalee Tanner. “I’ll probably do it again next year.”
Tanner has been learning how to start a chainsaw, and what it’s like to operate a bulldozer. Women represent little more than 7% of all U.S. firefighters. That number is a bit higher when it comes wildfire-fighters, but not by much: about 12% of positions with the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service focused on wildland firefighting are occupied by women.