Women Fighting Fires

Fire Protection Technology majors MacKenzie Nicol (left) and Kaitlyn Eighmie (right) at the Onondaga Hill Fire Department where they participate in the bunk-in program.
Fire Protection Technology majors MacKenzie Nicol (left) and Kaitlyn Eighmie (right) at the Onondaga Hill Fire Department where they participate in the bunk-in program.

Six months ago MacKenzie Nicol and Kaitlyn Eighmie didn’t know each other. Today they are inseparable. Both are OCC Fire Protection Technology majors learning and excelling in a field dominated by men. They trace the foundation for their success back to Phoenix Firecamp which they both attended in the summer of 2016. It’s a week-long residential camp for women interested in career and volunteer fire service. “The camp provided us great hands-on experience and training with other women,” said Eighmie. “It really sparked my mind as I entered college.”

Nicol and Eighmie grew up about two hours apart from each other. Nicol graduated from upstate Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School in 2015, Eighmie from downstate Stamford High School in 2016. Each was active in her hometown fire department before coming to OCC. Nicol joined the Sylvan Beach Fire Department two years ago while Eighmie had been part of the Stamford Fire Department since 2014.

Phoenix Firecamp
Phoenix Firecamp

In July they met for the first time in Utica, spending a week together at Phoenix Firecamp. Attendees had the opportunity to learn about firefighting in an all-female environment. “Women can do the job of firefighting, they may just need to do it a little differently,” said Rochelle Jones who is President of the Fire Service Women of New York State and a retired Fire Department of New York Battalion Chief. “We hear all the time that young women who do belong to a fire department do not always get the same opportunities as the young men during training exercises, or they are conscientious of trying something for the first time while being the only female in attendance.  We offer both experience and support to overcome these issues.”

Nicol and Eighmie found the Phoenix Firecamp experience to be invaluable. “I knew I could do anything guys do but I might not do it the same way. My hands are smaller so I can’t grip around things the same way. They were able to show us ways they do it and how we can do it as females,” said Nicol. “It was a great bonding experience working together for the whole week. We became sisters and we all still stay in touch. If I could go back and do it again I would,” said Eighmie. OCC sophomore and Fire Protection Technology major Kiersten Spears also attended the Phoenix Firecamp.

Nicol and Eighmie are both participating in the bunk-in program. They live at the Onondaga Hill Fire Department free of charge in exchange for responding to emergency calls. It provides area residents with enhanced fire protection, presents students the opportunity to work side-by-side with professionals while receiving valuable hands-on training 24 hours a day and saves students a significant amount of money.

Eighmie is also saving money thanks to the John F. Downes Memorial Scholarship which is distributed through the OCC Foundation. Downes passed away at age 40 from Graves’ Disease. His sister, Kathy McCabe-Crouse and her husband Jeff Crouse created the scholarship in his memory. She decided the beneficiary should be a student in the Fire Protection Technology major in honor of her father, Mike Downes who was a retired Chief in the Syracuse Fire Department.  McCabe-Crouse is an alumna of OCC’s Nursing and Human Services programs and a former member of the OCC Alumni Association.

The $1,200 scholarship is helping Eighmie cover the cost of tuition and fees. When she learned she would receive it she was overjoyed. “I looked at my financial aid, called my mom and said, ‘Mom I got a scholarship!’ It was amazing. It’s great to know someone is helping you achieve what you want to achieve.”

Eighmie and Nicol are planning to earn their degrees in May 2018. Eighmie is interested in pursuing a career as a fire investigator, inspector or code enforcer. Nicol plans to become a career firefighter.

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