Blazing a Trail: Young Woman’s Drive Changes Fire Academy Rules

Lt. Erin Nunes, left, and firefighter Londyn Randall outside Station 31 in Lebanon. Photo by Jennifer Moody

Fourteen-year-old girls who sign up for firefighter training this summer through the Lebanon Fire District can thank Londyn Randall for the opportunity.

It was 2018 and Randall was just 14 when she told her mother she’d like to try Lebanon’s new Linn County Young Women’s Fire Academy.

Then in its first year, the academy was geared for ages 16 to 19. But Randall’s mother called Lt. Erin Nunes, who was organizing the academy, to see what might be done.

“I remember asking her mom, is she very mature? Do you think she can do this camp?” Nunes said. “And she said, ‘Absolutely.’”

During a Denver Drill demonstration, Londyn Randall, top center, sits in a tight space while instructor Shannon Baker, of Albany Fire Department, acts as an unconscious victim in her lap. 2018 file photo

So Nunes agreed and Randall signed up. She did so well that Nunes decided the minimum age for all subsequent camps would be lowered to 14.

“I realized, this is the age group we should be including,” Nunes said.

Registration closes May 3 for this year’s academy, which will be held July 13-14 at the fully rebuilt Station 31 at 1050 W. Oak St.

Anyone 14 to 19 who lives in Oregon and identifies as female is welcome to apply. There is no cost, and meals are included. Information and applications are available online at lebanonfireoregon.gov or by calling 541.451.1901.

Randall has volunteered with previous camps, but this year, she will be among the full-fledged firefighters helping to run the academy. A resident volunteer for the Lebanon Fire District for the past year and a half, she started her job as a paid staff member on April 1.

The academy sold her on firefighting, she said.

Randall hadn’t really considered the academy until her best friend’s father, Lt. Brent Gaskey, suggested joining.

“I was so little,” marveled Randall, now 20. But she remembers thinking, “OK. That sounds fun.”

She enjoyed everything about that first academy, from handling hoses to practicing forced entries. But what really sold her was the 108-foot aerial ladder.

“I got all the way to the top and I thought, this is really cool,” Randall said.

Lt. Erin Nunes, left, and firefighter Londyn Randall pose next to the bell outside the station. Photo by Jennifer Moody

She came back for a second academy the following year, but couldn’t continue after that because of shutdowns from the global coronavirus pandemic.

As a high school senior, she talked to a recruiting officer about becoming a volunteer, and went through the formal volunteer academy in fall 2022. Now she’s taking paramedic classes at Chemeketa Community College in Salem and hopes to have her license this summer.

Women still make up only a small percentage of firefighters nationwide: 9% in 2020, according to estimates from the National Fire Protection Association. Of those, more than 80 percent were volunteers.

That’s something Nunes said she’s hoping the Young Women’s Fire Academy will help to change. It’s already starting to: one of Randall’s co-campers, McKenzie Crenshaw, is also part of Lebanon’s paid firefighting crew. (Five women in all are part of the paid team.)

Unlike Randall, Crenshaw already was planning to be a firefighter when she joined the academy.

“I was already sold,” she said, “but it did justify that this was what I wanted to do for sure.”

McKenzie Crenshaw smiles while participating in the 2019 academy. Photo courtesy of Erin Nunes

Crenshaw went to the full firefighter academy as a senior in high school, then served as a resident volunteer for six months while getting EMT certification at Chemeketa. She was hired in Lebanon in January 2022 and also continues to help with the women’s academy.

The academy is important for young women’s self-confidence, Crenshaw said. A huge part is simply offering the opportunity to try something they may not have considered.

Nunes agreed. She invites women police officers and National Guard service folks to the academies to share the same message. She also points out the fire service careers that exist alongside firefighting.

“My goal is that every little girl knows this is an option for her,” Nunes said. “It doesn’t have to be, but it could be.”

Women are critical to fire service for several reasons, the three said: Diversity strengthens teams because men and women bring different backgrounds, perspectives and approaches to the job. Also, a large percentage of emergency calls are related to assault or to medical or mental health crises, and women firefighters may be more quick to gain the trust of women and child patients.

Further, the nation is suffering a severe firefighter shortage, particularly when it comes to volunteers. The National Volunteer Fire Council estimated there were close to 898,000 volunteer firefighters in 1984, handling 11,890,000 fire service calls that year. By 2020, the number of volunteers had dropped to 676,900 – but calls had more than tripled, to 36,416,000.

“Every single department is facing this,” Nunes said. “We need to broaden our view of, what is a firefighter?”

Londyn Randall, left, uses an ax to feel for victims during a search and rescue drill in a darkened room during the inaugural 2018 academy. File photo

Nunes said when she was pursuing her career, she didn’t know of any other women firefighters, not even ones portrayed in movies or on television. It’s more common now, but she still gets the occasional puzzled comment from strangers who assume she works strictly as a paramedic and doesn’t actually fight a blaze.

Crenshaw said she used to get comments from people who asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to be a nurse?”

“There’s always that pushback of, ‘Are you sure that’s what you want to do?’” she said, but added she never felt anything but support from the Lebanon station.

It’s that support the three women said they want to share with their younger counterparts who take this summer’s academy.

Said Randall: “I think it’s great to show you can be whatever you want to be.”


Applications for this year’s Linn County Young Women’s Fire Academy can be found at LebanonFire.org/lfd/page/young-womens-fire-academy.

  • Dates: July 13-14, 2024, from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
  • Registration: Free of charge.
  • Application Deadline: Friday, May 3, 2024, by 4:30 p.m.
  • Must be between the ages of 14 and 19.
  • Reside in the state of Oregon.
Lt. Erin Nunes, left, and firefighter Londyn Randall pose next to the bell outside the station. Photo by Jennifer Moody

How to submit a completed application:

  • In-person drop-off: Deliver application packet to Station 31/Headquarters at 1050 W. Oak St, Lebanon, Oregon 97355. Drop-off hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Mail: Send application packet via mail to:

Linn County Young Women’s Fire Academy
c/o The Lebanon Fire District
Attn: Lieutenant Erin Nunes
1050 W. Oak Street
Lebanon, Oregon 97355

Total
0
Share