By Rowan Beck | Contributor
You don’t have to be a 6-foot-5 burly young man to be a firefighter, and the Charlotte Fire Department can prove it. Three amazing young women have recently joined the squad. All three joined for different reasons, but they are perfect examples for why size doesn’t matter. All are under the age of 30, the youngest only 19.
There’s not much to Catherine Richards, a.k.a. “Cat.” She’s a 5-foot, 2-inch wisp of a thing weighing in at 115 pounds soaking wet on a good day. Don’t let that fool you. She has been trained as a level one interior fire fighter and plans to take her level two beginning this fall. She joined Charlotte Volunteer Fire department two years ago and lives in Vergennes. She volunteers here because she works quite a bit in town and is hoping to move here. Charlotters may recognize her as the friendly face behind the counter at the Old Brick or see her coming out of Church Hill Landscaping. She began as a probationary member after leaving the Humane Society. She wanted to “give back [to society] in a bigger way—more than just walking a dog.” This required her to rely more on her physical fitness, which she enjoys. “Plus it’s a lot of fun,” she says. “You don’t have to be like one of those guys in the movies. There’s tons of stuff to do to help out. You don’t have to be the biggest or the strongest.”
Brianna Hanlon feels the same way. She grew up in town and began going to the firehouse when she was only eight years old. Her best friend’s parents, Jen and Paul McAdam, were members, one in fire, the other in rescue. Brianna and one of her friends would sit and watch as the grownups attended training. “We would just sit and watch” she said, and that is when she got “bit by the bug.” She knew she wanted to help people when she grew up. She joined the department roughly three years ago and is an exterior fire fighter managing hoses and pumps for the interior fire fighters. “One cannot exist without the other. We totally rely on each other,” she said.
Crystal Dykema lives in Ferrisburgh and at 28 is the most seasoned of the female fire crew. She is a mother of three small children and owns her own business, 802 Performance. She has three female fire fighters in her family and two brothers in the police department. To her, it was just in the atmosphere when she was growing up. When she was about six her cousin died in a fire, leaving behind a four-year-old little boy. She garnered a great respect for the profession that day and signed up while still in high school in Indiana. She had both level one and two by the time she graduated. She spent two years in a department in Indiana before moving here with her husband and then two children. She served on the Ferrisburgh Fire Department for several years before switching to Charlotte, where she really feels at home.
All three joined for very different reasons, but it is clear that they really enjoy the effect they have on the community. They do more than just fight fires and go to car accidents. Cat’s favorite part of the job is going to Charlotte Central School to teach fire safety. “We show the kids we are not scary,” she said. “A lot of kids are afraid of the gear. The last thing you want [in a fire] is a kid hiding from you.”
Crystal has similar feelings. She likes the training they do at CVU before the prom. They put together a “mock crash” and one of the seniors dresses up in bloody clothes. The student is hauled away in an ambulance and even misses school the next day. This raises awareness in students about making good choices and allows them to really think about what could happen. It really hit home for her this year when seniors put post-it-notes on the wall making commitments.
Brianna echoed both Cat and Crystal, saying, “Every call makes me feel good. I know I am helping in new ways and meeting people in the community.”
Since 1982, when Linda Foote was the assistant chief, there has always been a woman on the squad. Cat, Crystal and Brianna would love to see more women join. They are proof, with their successes and commitment, that it is not all brawn behind these fire fighters.
For more information on how to join CVF please contact either Dick St. George or Rob Mullin at at 425-3111 or send them a message on Facebook—facebook.com/CVFRS/.