South Gulf Fire Rescue sees more women in firefighter training

Raquel Guilbault repeated the drills over and over again – lay the self contained breathing apparatus down with the top facing towards her boots, untangle the straps, kneel down, cross her arms, grab the straps and pull the apparatus directly over her head, securing the straps so the apparatus rests in the small of her back.

Friday was Guilbault’s first time doing the drill in full fire gear, which can weigh upwards of 50 pounds. The additional weight, she said, made the task significantly more difficult.

“I won’t need to go to the gym later,” she laughed. “This is definitely my workout for the day.”

Guilbault is one of South Gulf Fire Rescue’s newest recruits. She moved to the area from California with her husband in March, 2021, and after meeting South Gulf’s Fire Chief Mike Barrett at a community function, both she and her husband began volunteering around the station.

It wasn’t long before Guilbault decided that she wanted to be a firefighter herself.

“I started volunteering, just asking questions coming to the first meeting, maybe about five, six months ago,” she said. “And then (the fire chief) had mentioned taking the Firefighter One classes, and I said, ‘you know what, that would be awesome.’”

“I’m all about developing skills and different things like that.”

She enrolled in the state’s Firefighter One class – a 191 hour online course for volunteer firefighters that she hopes to complete by the end of the year, an ambitious goal considering she is also working and going to school to do this.

Charlie Frank, an instructor from the Florida Fire Marshals’ Office, was with Guilbault that day, going over the skills that she needed to learn to move on to the next chapter of the course’s 18-chapter textbook.

“A firefighter’s online class has over 170 different skills that they have to complete throughout the coursework,” he said. “They range from the basic firefighting skills all the way through to hazmat training as well.”

“(Guilbault) is just starting, and what we’ve been working on the past couple days is the actual bunker gear, the PPE and the self contained breathing apparatus, the SCBA.”

Frank said that Guilbault is one of several women currently enrolled in the program across the state. He didn’t have exact numbers, but guesed about eight or nine of his 60 or so students are female.

“It is predominantly male, but we do see women in the class. We do have female firefighters that are certified,” he said “We don’t currently have the ability to determine how many, but that’s full that is forthcoming.”

By the year’s end, if things go according to plan, three of South Gulf Fire Rescue’s nine firefighters will be women, with one other woman completing the Firefighter One training with Guilbault.

South Gulf’s only current woman firefighter is the department’s certified firefighter with the most seniority, according to Fire Chief Mike Barrett, though the department does have many women volunteers in non-firefighting roles.

“There is no job in the fire service that a female firefighter cannot accomplish,” Barrett said. “They all meet the same requirements established by the state and federal agencies as their male counterparts.”

In 2018, the National Fire Protection Assossiation found that only eight percent of volunteer firefighters were women.

Guilbault said that the high proportion of women at South Gulf and encouragement from the department’s leadership made her feel energized to pursue such a difficult certification.

As she completed a round of training drills, she stopped to drink from a water bottle and receive feedback from Frank before putting her gear back on and starting over again.

“Honestly, the training, I’m excited about it,” Guilbault said. “To be able to save a life is important to me, so to have those skills, I’m looking forward to training.”


Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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