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An otherwise routine day ended up being historic for Centre County’s Alpha Fire Company.
In late September, firefighters Kara Stover, Claudia Rudisill, and Talia Cholach were heading to training when they received a call about a blaze in the Centre Hills Village neighborhood. They quickly went to the College Township station to gear up.
When they arrived on the scene, the women ended up forming the 124-year-old department’s first all-female attack line. An attack line is a hose used to extinguish the fire. When the line is receiving water, it takes multiple people to hold and direct it.
Stover said the assembly was pure luck given their typical work schedule, but said it felt natural.
“During the incident, we didn't realize what we were actually doing because we were training together. Being on an actual call on a fire ground we didn't look at it any different,” Stover said.
Rudisill said the absence of the men made her realize what was happening.
”I was more so looking at the absence of men as a surprise. It was not a surprise seeing us by ourselves,” she told PA Local.
When the company posted about the milestone on the department’s Facebook page days later, the women received an outpour of support from the community.
“They made a difference because they were willing to put in the time and effort to train so that when the call for help came they were able to respond and perform professionally as the initial fire attack in what was a significant operation with multiple companies operating on scene,” the post said.
“No one is surprised to see this happen with Alpha. They were all supportive … It was definitely a moment of everyone being supportive of us being in history. It is definitely an expectation we are on those calls,” Rudisill said.
Fire Chief Jason Troup said the achievement did not cross his mind until a fellow member of the company mentioned it to him.
“They did what they were trained to do,” he said.
Only 9% of the nation’s firefighters are women, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, a federal agency.
Centre Region Fire Director Shawn Kauffman said there are 12 women active in their department, which is the most they have ever had. He said having three women working together is not rare, but three women putting out a working fire together was.
After the historic event, Kauffman said in a staff meeting that going forward women working together would be a regular scene.
“They agreed. I don’t think anyone was shocked it occurred. They are happy it did. Hopefully, this gets more women involved in the fire service,” he said.
The West Chester Fire Department in Southeastern Pennsylvania also has seen recent growth in the number of female firefighters.
“Women in fire companies is becoming a more common thing in 2023 with each engine class. We come in, and we see more and more women applying and becoming firefighters. It’s such a cool feeling to be able to do that,” Stover said.
Rudisill echoed Stover, telling PA Local, “To see young women in fire service is rare. Over the years we have seen more join. Three years ago I didn’t think it would’ve happened with an attack line. It is quite a prideful moment.”
Kauffman said that when he joined the fire department 35 years ago, there was only one female firefighter. He hopes the numbers continue to rise.
“As it becomes more of a visual thing of women being involved and seen in the community, hopefully that makes them think ‘Hey, I can do that too,’” he said.
Stover and Rudisill said they also hope to see more women enter the profession, encouraging anyone interested to just go for it.
“Give it a try. Sign up and write your name. You may find out you don't like it. You can at least say you tried. It used to be the brotherhood, but now it is a family … You become super close to the people you work with in firefighting,” Stover said.
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