Sisters Among Brothers: Female Firefighters Thrive at Harmonville Fire Company

“Brotherhood.” That’s one word that’s used a lot around a firehouse, or when talking about the fire service.

But within these tightly-knit groups of brothers are sisters, too, scattered throughout the ranks of career and volunteer fire departments across the country.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), women made up eight percent of the more than 1.1 million firefighters in the United States in 2018—most of them volunteer, and just over 11,000 career staff.

At Harmonville Fire Company in Plymouth Township, there are just a few female firefighters. Though they may be small in number, each of them are more than up to the challenge of protecting the residents in their service area.

“I’ve always been treated as one of the guys,” says Amanda Hoade, one of only two women on Harmonville’s career firefighter roster. “I didn’t want to be treated differently.”

Hoade started serving in a volunteer capacity when she was 14, alongside her father. But after a five-year stint as a special education teacher, she realized she missed the firehouse—so she went back, this time making it a career.

“I look forward to coming to work every day—it’s an aggressive company,” Hoade says. “There’s always something new to learn and everybody brings something to the table.”

It’s not just fighting fire. Harmonville’s close proximity to the Turnpike, Blue Route and other major roads makes for a lot of vehicle rescue calls. Hoade says these calls sit differently, a battle of “man versus machine” to save lives in critical situations.

Alongside the career firefighters responding to these calls are volunteers, as well. Kelsey Forsyth and Hope Mitchell are two volunteers currently taking Firefighter 1 certification training. Once certified, they’ll be full-fledged firefighters.

Their situations going into firefighting were a little different. Forsyth practically grew up at the Harmonville firehouse. Her father, Scott, is a longtime member and now Chief Engineer, and she jokes that she’s seen by the guys as “the little sister they never wanted.”

She joined as a junior volunteer at 16, but put off Firefighter 1 training indefinitely when life kept getting in the way. But finally, after twelve years, she’s started the journey toward certification.

“I’m glad I waited,” Forsyth says. “I needed to wait, I think. Life happens and everything happens for a reason.”

Mitchell, meanwhile, got to the fire service “accidentally.” Because she was in school to become a trauma nurse, she was looking for a fire station that had EMS services, too. Harmonville doesn’t have an EMS program—but she stuck around, anyway.

“It gave me the kind of job that I wanted—a busy job where I didn’t know what I was going to expect,” she says. “I kind of enjoyed the chaos, and I ended up falling in love with it.”

Harmonville is a second family for these three women. It’s a tight-knit company that relies much on support from its dedicated group of volunteers—who do it because they love it, says Mitchell.

Volunteers can serve in a variety of roles there, not limited to fighting fires. Fire police, vehicle rescue and administrative volunteers are also needed.

And, like Hoade, volunteers can start as young as 14 as part of the junior program. There, they learn the basics of firefighting and assist on calls. It serves as crucial training toward becoming an adult firefighter, and looks good on a resume, too.

Those who join the fire company will find a group of people who love serving their community and are more than happy to help their fellow firefighters succeed.

“The people that are there, want to be there, and want to fight fires and help their community,” Forsyth says.

“All you have to do is come out to a training, and see how people interact with each other,” says Hoade. “It’s very empowering when people help you with a skill and you master it.”

And that term “brotherhood”? It may seem limiting on its face, but Hoade, Forsyth and Mitchell don’t see it that way.

To them, it’s a general term, a way to describe a fire company as a family. It’s part of a history where only men were firefighters—and even if men still make up the majority of departments, women are very much part of the “brotherhood” of the fire service.

“In the fire station, there is no guys and girls,” says Mitchell. “We are the brotherhood, and we are the family. We’re all there to get the job done.”

Become a part of Harmonville Fire Company’s longstanding commitment to honor, family, and community as a volunteer – sign up to serve at www.JoinHarmonvilleFire.org.