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Female firefighters changing the face of the Milwaukee Fire Department

Posted at 6:53 AM, Apr 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-19 07:53:13-04

MILWAUKEE — Inside Milwaukee Fire Department (MFD) Station House 13, you'll see pictures on the wall of past firefighters who have served the city. Almost all of those pictures are of men, part of the Bad Boyz 13.

However, recently out on the wall, you'll also see pictures of the women who are changing the narrative of this male-dominated industry.

Firefighter and paramedic Maria Sharp has been with MFD for almost nine years. It's a career that runs in the family.

"My dad was in the job, he actually worked for Milwaukee for almost 40 years. And growing up, I was always so proud of him and that’s what I wanted for myself," said Sharp.

Sharp said she knew she wanted to be a firefighter, not only because of the family, but to give back, and more recently to be a role model to others, specifically to her nieces and nephews.

"They have no idea that being a firefighter or cop is traditionally a male's job. They have no clue and that’s awesome," said Sharp.

MFD has 729 sworn members. Of that group, only 44 are women. However, the department is working on growing its diversity.

"There’s strength in numbers and every year the numbers grow for women on this department, and we are coming together and feeding off of each other - and it’s empowering," said Shap.

In 2020, TMJ4 News met a group of students who were increasing the size of the female class in the MFD Cadet program. About one third of their class back then identified as female. Two years later, these young ladies are working on the job.

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MFD firefighters

"All the hard days out there finally paid off, so it’s nice to see the end of it," said Kylie Miller with Station 26.

The firefighters who work for Station 26 and Station 8 said being in the field has been a surreal dream. However, on Saturday, the group of young ladies were back where it all started for them at the training facility located on Teutonia Avenue. They are now helping train the next generation of female firefighters.

"We were teaching the girls how to pick up the ladder and put it on, and I remember when we use to struggle when we first started. So it’s nice to have the technique and experience to be able to give that to someone else," said Mackenzie Berlin with Station 8.

The help and advice from the young female firefighters is something that Maetha Luangphaxayachack said she was thankful for as she took a physical fitness training test.

"It’s inspiring to me, because it’s a male-dominated community, so for me to see women in this industry, it inspires me to keep working harder and keep going towards what I do. Because if they can do it, I can do it," said Luangphaxayachack.

The ladies said it's all about support and building a community. Each generation leans on one another, hoping to inspire other women to join their field, firmly believing that the department is stronger when the diversity grows.

"Our city is so diverse that our fire department should look exactly like how our city is," said Berlin.

To learn more about the Fire Cadet program, click here.

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