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BRIEF: Workshop aims to increase diversity in local fire departments

Whatcom County hosts two-day event for women interested in pursuing EMS, firefighting careers

Bellingham Fire Department Captain Sarah Pernick (left) and Firefighter Shelly Larson (right) at the 2022 Women in Fire conference in Orlando, Florida. Local fire agencies are coming together to host the first Whatcom County Future Women in EMS & Fire Workshop. // Photo courtesy of Bellingham Fire Department

In an effort to address the gender gap in the emergency medical services and fire departments, six agencies from around the county have come together to host the first Whatcom County Future Women in EMS & Fire Workshop on May 6 and 7. The workshop is designed to help remove barriers and encourage women to pursue careers in EMS and firefighting.

Emily Thompson is a firefighter with the Bellingham Fire Department. She said over the past five years or longer, everyone in fire service has been prioritizing efforts to increase diversity and representation within fire departments.  

“It’s important to have that diversity so that we can be compassionate towards everybody, we can relate to people and we create a safe and welcoming space,” Thompson said.

At the start of 2022, women made up only 10% of the Bellingham Fire Department, according to an article by the Cascadia Daily News. The Whatcom County Future Women in EMS & Fire Workshop seeks to change that by providing an opportunity for women over 18 years old from all backgrounds to explore the various careers available and network with EMS and fire professionals.

Fire agencies from across the county, including the Bellingham Fire Department and North Whatcom Fire & Rescue, have come together to plan the workshop and provide instructors and equipment. 

Thompson said the workshop received many applicants, but as it had only 24 open slots the agencies prioritized those with no prior EMS or firefighting experience. 

During the two-day workshop, participants will partake in many hands-on training sessions. The mornings will be dedicated to fire skills such as using fire hoses, putting on and taking off bunker gear — the personal protective equipment used by firefighters — and search and rescue techniques. 

Sessions on EMS skills will be held in the afternoons. These will include activities like CPR training and lessons on how to treat various types of wounds. 

Whatcom County female firefighters and EMS professionals will also be leading discussion panels on topics such as different career path options within the industry, preparing for interviews and getting hired.

“There’s been an overwhelming amount of support from all of the fire districts and the cities that have come together to put this on,” Thompson said. “I think that shows how invested we all are in trying to remove barriers for women to become firefighters.”

Thompson said the fire agencies plan to make the Whatcom County Future Women in EMS & Fire Workshop an annual event.

Isabel Hyde

Isabel Hyde (she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front. She is a third-year studying public relations. In her free time, she enjoys watching films, curling up with a good book, and going to local music shows. You can reach her at

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