The Girls of the Berlin Volunteer Fire Company Cadet Program

Colbey Sirman practices fighting a fire at a practice house burn during a cadet meeting. Photo taken by Wayne Barrell.

Lydia M Woodley

Colbey Sirman practices fighting a fire at a practice house burn during a cadet meeting. Photo taken by Wayne Barrell.

Lydia Woodley, Staff Writer

Being a firefighter is undeniably a difficult and heroic job. Due to the risks involved in this job, it has been a male dominant field and has not been considered a potential career path for women. Two members of the Berlin Fire Cadet Program, juniors Colbey Sirman and Taylor Takacs embody this new wave of women entering the field as the only girls in the program. Sirman joined the Cadet Program in January 2018 as the first girl in the program. Takacs joined the program shortly after Sirman in March 2018. 

The Fire Cadets are teenagers between the ages of fourteen and eighteen who volunteer their time at the fire department. The program gives teenagers the ability to see if they are interested in a career in firefighting and to build life skills.   

The Third Assistant Chief of the Berlin Fire Company and Cadet Instructor Robert J (RJ) Rhode said, “The overall purpose of the Fire Cadet program is to give high school students a chance to learn about the fire service. As a cadet they learn about serving the community they live in, and the rewarding feeling to help others in a time of need.” 

Some of the skills Sirman and Takacs have learned in the program range from rescue techniques, first aid, CPR, fire behavior, and basic firefighting operations. They learn all about the tools and equipment firefighters use. Cadets use the same turnout gear as a firefighter. They also learn teamwork, which Rhode considers “the number one thing that is needed to mitigate someone’s emergency.” 

Sirman’s father is the reason she got into the Cadet Program. He is a firefighter and her role model. When he asked if she wanted to join the program, she jumped on the opportunity. Sirman considers the most important part of being a cadet is, “being able to help the community and having the courage to walk up to a devastating scene and he

lp those who need help.”  

Sirman did not know anyone else in the program and was the only girl at the time she started and found it “nerve-racking,” but eventually she became close to the other boys and saw the individuality of being one of the only girls. “It’s very cool being one of the only girls for so long, but I love the fact that I can show other girls that it’s okay to be the one who stands out in the crowd.”  

Sirman says being in the cadet program has taught her how to be more confident in herself, make commitments to helping others and make a difference.  

Rhode can attest to how seriously Sirman takes the program. Rhode says she best contributes to the program by, “always [being] happy to help and willing to help others learn as well. She takes being a member seriously and takes pride in what she does.” 

Sirman plans on following the path of helping otherthroughout the rest of her life. She is enrolled in the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Hazmat/Fire Rescue 1 class at the Worcester Technical School with the goal of becoming a paramedic.  

Like Sirman, Takacs joined the program because of her interest in Emergency Medical Services (EMS). She wants to become an EMT and be nationally certified when she turns 18 years old so that she can work all over the country. She was ‘eager’ to join the cadet program as an EMT. Takacs exclaimed, “It is such an original job, I’m thrilled to take part in the department and become a part of saving people’s lives.” 

Takacs’ favorite part of being a cadet is learning cool, new techniques like splinting and giving medications. 

When it comes to being a female cadet Takacs states, “I feel like a baby, being around a bunch of boys, but you man up when you need to. Especially when they need help in the EMS world. They get so used to waving around their heavy tools and working hard to fight fire, but it’s a different, delicate world when handling a patient. Teaching care and compassion is important to me.”  

Rhode adds, “Taylor is learning a lotas well as participating in various trainings to include, water supply operations, firefighter protective equipment, and tool maintenance. In her time as a cadet with the company she has made a lot of progress and continues to do so.” 

In her free time Takacs studies her medical books and does research, preparing for her future. Takacs’ plans to join the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School (OCS) for human intelligence and later go on to  paramedic school.  

Both Sirman and Takacs have words of advice for any teen whom is interesting in joining the cadet program. Sirman remarks, “If you have what it takes to help others and make a difference, come get an application from the Berlin Fire Company, we’re always open to the public.” She also advises that, “It’s not fun and games once you’ve put in your application and start training.  It’s no joke. This is the real deal. Firefighters young or old—we put in the work to save others.” Takacs gives a more light-hearted comment and says, “Do it. It’s fun and it gives you opportunities the average high school student would not be able to have.” 

Members of the Berlin Fire Cadet Program meet for two hours every Thursday at 7 p.m. At these meetings cadets practice drills including, suiting up in protective gear in two minutes, hooking a hose to a fire hydrant and busting through a locked door with an axe. Members are also always prepared to respond to any emergency call, ranging from a fire alarm accidentally going off to house fires and car crashes. 

For more information about the Berlin Fire Cadet Program go to berlinfire.com.