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Rochester Fire Department shows women they can be firefighters

The first ever Women's Expo on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, was designed to show women they can be firefighters.

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Three women learn how to use a hose at the Olmsted County Public Safety Training Center during the first Women's Expo Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.
Abby Sharpe / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Faith Humphrey was determined to finish the firefighter physical agility test.

The test was difficult, no doubt – especially for her 13-year-old body – but the Keiser was undoubtedly the hardest. The Keiser Force Machine simulates structural firefighting tasks: A 9-pound sledgehammer is used to move a 151-pound I beam down the platform.

But she was determined to finish it, and she did, all while her mother stood watching. Faith’s mom knew the difficulty of the Keiser because she’s Mandee Marx, a Rochester firefighter.

The physical tests were part of Saturday’s first Rochester Fire Department Women’s Expo at the Olmsted County Public Safety Training Center, an event put together by Marx and other firefighters who are working to diversify the department.

There’s an understanding that fewer women are becoming firefighters, and it’s something the Rochester department is aware of and is working to fix. The expo is just one way to show women and girls that firefighting is an attainable career for them.

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“I wanted to let women know they can do this job,” Marx said. “I think a lot of times we look at this job, it's been since we were younger: men, men, men. That’s what you see, but it's different. This job is different. There's so many different aspects to it. And by allowing women to use some of this stuff hands on, they see that they can do it.”

The idea for the expo came after Marx, who has worked as a Rochester firefighter for five years, attended an all-women’s fire conference in Spokane, Washington, last September. Being surrounded by women firefighters who have similar experiences as Marx solidified to her the importance of having a diverse department.

Eighteen girls and women between the ages of 14 and 30 participated Saturday, a smaller crowd than expected due to the weather. One of the biggest goals Marx had for the expo was to reach the younger girls so they could begin to see what a career as a firefighter would look like.

The expo featured five different stations that participants rotated through. The stations included rappelling from a three-story tower, forcibly opening a door, advancing a hose line and clearing a building, searching for and rescuing a victim, and extricating a person from a vehicle, all tasks that firefighters face on a regular basis.

The expo provided a baseline knowledge for participants on what firefighting is. Marx hopes to keep the expo around for years to come.

“This is the first one,” she said. “This is the very first time, so this is a good chance for us to get under us a little bit and understand what works and what doesn't work.”

Abby Sharpe joined the Post Bulletin in February 2022 after graduating from Arizona State University with a sports journalism degree. While at ASU, she created short- and long-form stories for audio and digital. Readers can reach Abby at 507-285-7723 or asharpe@postbulletin.com.
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