Fighting fire with females

Bellwood-Antis freshmen volunteer to help make a difference


Photos courtesy of Brianna Reiter and Johanna Whiteford.

Freshmen Brianna Reiter and Johanna Whiteford are serving the Bellwood-Antis community as volunteer fire fighters.

Marissa Panasiti, News and Features Writer

For generations, firefighters have been predominantly men for a variety of reasons. Many societies have been resistant to break with tradition, but over time, huge strides have been taken to balance the percentage of men-to-women.

Here at Bellwood-Antis, there are two young ladies striving to join the 4.8% of women serving our country through firefighting.

Freshmen Brianna Reiter and Johanna Whiteford are both official “junior” firefighters at Excelsior No.1 Fire Department on First Street in Bellwood.

We’ve joined a new part in the brotHERhood.

— Johanna Whiteford

“I’ve always wanted to help my community,” Brianna says. “The people at the station are great and so is the environment. I could tell that everyone there cared for others before themselves. A lot of people have lost so much from a fire, so it’s just a good feeling to know I’m helping someone.”

It really is sensational that these girls want to be a part male-driven occupation.

Both Brianna and Johanna agree that they feel very comfortable working with men, and the men make them feel like family. The treatment for them is the same, and teamwork is the key.

There is mutual respect and equal opportunity for everyone, with a little help from the men here and there.

“We’ve joined a new part in the brotHERhood,” says Johanna.

Excelsior No.1 Fire Department Captain Joe Whiteford, who doubles as Johanna’s father, is extremely proud of the strides that these students are making to help make a difference.

It’s hard to get kids to commit while knowing about the large amounts of training and fundraising.

— Joe Whiteford

“It really is nice to see younger kids into the department,” says Captain Whiteford. “It’s hard to get kids to commit while knowing about the large amounts of training and fundraising. When people hear about the 188 hours of training, they usually turn away. While volunteering has declined drastically, our community is really stepping up.”

The process to become a firefighter started for them at age 14. Once they filled out their applications, they could begin attending the monthly meetings at their station. They began taking the classes that they were eligible for due to their age and physical abilities. Both girls will be considered “junior” firefighters until they are 18.

Men and women possess different qualities that impact the firefighting community.

According to Brianna, women have integrity, confidence, and help keep things organized. Women prove to show vital emotional support.

Johanna believes that women tend to show more compassion and possess a motherly nature. Women will be more likely to comfort a fire victim after the disaster is over.

She and her instructor both believe that there are women who have the brains and the brawn as much of the men do.

“At Excelsior, we have a tradition of excellence, and these girls help add to what we stand for,” says Captain Whiteford.

Though a minuscule number of firefighters are women, there is no doubt this minority helps change the world. Confidence is key, and gender should never keep you from believing in yourself, and chasing your dreams.

The future holds bright for these two young women, and the Bellwood-Antis community thanks them for their service, present and future.