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Draper Journal

Young women learn what it takes to be a firefighter

Aug 10, 2023 11:38AM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

Twenty-five young women spent two days in April learning what it takes to be a firefighter while simultaneously building confidence in themselves. (Courtesy Draper City)

What’s it like to carry a 24-foot extension ladder on your shoulder and stand it straight up against a building, cut into cars, handle a fire hose heavy with water, or drag a 180-pound person to safety? Twenty-five young women found out during Draper’s All Future Female Firefighters (AFFF) camp in April.

The camp is the creation of Erin Lytle, one of only four female firefighters working for Draper City. “I was the first and only woman here for a year. When I started my career, I didn’t have any female mentors. Draper allowed me to create a mentorship program to help young women know it’s absolutely something they can do if they’re interested,” she said.

Lytle chose the 18-21 age range, largely focused on recent high school graduates. “I wanted to capture that audience because that’s a time in their life when they’re trying to figure out what they want to do with it. Women empowering women is the intent. Especially with high school girls lacking confidence, I wanted to change their outlook and show them they could be part a ‘family’ that’s going to build you up and support you 100%.”

Day one of camp had female speakers from other fire departments talk to the participants about the emotional, mental and physical parts of the job. Day two was designed for hands-on experiences with skill stations for handling a fire hose filled with water, carrying and climbing large ladders, dragging a 180-pound dummy, learning forceable entry, and using tools to cut cars to extract people.

AFFF is designed as a potential recruitment tool for Draper, but primarily a chance to build confidence. “Whether or not they decide to do fire, they learn that they can do hard stuff in life, and challenges aren’t something to back down from but something that helps you grow,” Lytle said.

Each participant had to have her EMT certification prior to the free camp. Those who complete the program and enroll in Utah Valley’s Fire Academy can apply for a scholarship that is gifted upon fire academy graduation. Last year’s winner received more than $4,000. “This year I had seven scholarship applications. That’s seven girls interested in joining the fire service,” Lytle said.

Drawn to firefighting because it was her dad’s career, Lytle started as a volunteer in southern Utah then worked part time for Hurricane and Washington County before being hired by Draper in 2017. Wildland firefighting interested her the most. “Then I got into the medical side of things, so I joined the two as a wildland medic. It’s a challenging career and I felt like I was up for the challenge. The whole idea of fire and EMS is community service which is why I first volunteered,” she said. Now, Lytle is a Firefighter Paramedic (Fire Medic), the highest level of pre-hospital provider. 

Lytle likes to push herself beyond her regular job duties. In addition to the various certifications and continuing education all firefighters must continually keep up on, she has added to her workload by taking on extra projects such as grant writing, re-doing Draper’s Emergency Operations Center, getting the city’s CERT trailers ready in case of disaster, and teaching emergency classes. She traveled to Texas with a colleague to talk with other departments from across the nation about wildland fire mitigation, and she was recently chosen as Utah Plans Section Chief for hazard management. 

Lytle is a fan of giving back to the community, so she created a chili cook-off among fire departments in the valley that serves as a fundraiser for the University of Utah’s burn camp for kids. “It’s always a good time for a good cause,” she said.

Funding for AFFF isn’t guaranteed, but Lytle hopes the city will continue to make space in the budget for her confidence-building, recruitment creation, and she has worked on a grant to that end. “I’m hoping it becomes an annual thing with how successful it’s been,” she said.λ