GFFR hires new paramedic, third female in department history

Great Falls Fire Rescue has been actively recruiting paramedics to address their shortage and the newest rookie is helping fill that role.

Brooke Lindskog is a paramedic and is also the third woman to be hired at GFFR.

The department hired the state’s first professional female in 1982 and Maren Reilly, the second female hired at GFFR, has been with the department for seven years.

There’s also a female on the front office staff at GFFR.

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Lindskog has been in Great Falls for about two years and has been working as a paramedic for Great Falls Emergency Services and for an ambulance service in Cut Bank.

The 23-year-old Sunburst native had no firefighting experience when she started the GFFR rookie academy in June.

“I wanted a job where I can be a paramedic and continue challenging myself,” Lindskog said. “This is all brand new to me.”

Great Falls Fire Rescue rookie training

Brooke Lindskog training on second story search and rescue during Great Falls Fire Rescue rookie training in June 2018. Photo by Jenn Rowell | The Electric

Lindskog went through the Montana Firefighter Testing Consortium in June 2017 and was on the brink of having to test again before being hired at GFFR, which was the only department she applied to since it was her top choice. The consortium includes a written and physical test and is held annually in June. Most professional fire departments in Montana hire through the consortium.

Lindskog said that there weren’t very many females testing when she did last summer.

“If you put in the work,” she said, firefighting is doable for men and women. “It’s hard for anyone, but not impossible. I love it. I had no idea what I was getting into. It’s definitely hard work.”

At first, she was nervous to be with a bunch of guys, but within a few days, she had relaxed and said “the guys are super nice.”

Lindskog was studying public health in Missoula, but three years in, her father became very ill.

She moved back to be close to her dad and got started in the EMT program through Great Falls College MSU and then the paramedic program in Cut Bank.

Her father passed away two years ago, but she is continuing to pursue a career that will allow her to help others.

GFFR has been feeling the national paramedic shortage and Assistant Chief Jeremy Jones said Lindskog was the only paramedic among those selected for interviews in the last hiring round.

Adding females on the truck floor hasn’t impacted the budget in anyway and there’s no impact within the currently facilities, Jones said. Two stations have separate dorms/locker room areas and since there are only 3-4 people on shift at a station at a given time, it’s a non-issue. He said there were plans to create separate spaces at another station, but the sewer collapse in two stations is a more urgent facility need.

She’ll put the department back to 16 paramedics since one moved out-of-state earlier this year. Right now, some of the battalion chiefs who are paramedics have been helping fill in on major medical calls like cardiac arrests, Jones said.

GFFR

GFFR officials have set a strategic goal of 24 paramedics to that each engine company will have a paramedic on each shift and there will be enough to cover vacation, sick days and injuries.

Since the hiring process isn’t keeping pace with the need for firefighters, officials have been looking at ways to fill that void internally.

Two current firefighters are current firefighters are in a paramedic program now while continuing to work at GFFR and two more are taking the prerequisite courses to start to paramedic program, Jones said.

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The proposed city budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 includes $20,000 to support tuition assistance for those paramedic programs.

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On June 14, Lindskog was working on roof ventilation tactics using the flat and pitched roof replicas several stories high at the GFFR training center.

Jeff Jackson is a battalion chief and was running this iteration of the rookie academy. He said that the firefighters first cut a triangle as an inspection hole.

“We always teach that because you don’t know what’s under there,” Jackson said.

They want to know if there’s fire in the attic, Jackson said, and also what kind of construction is under the roof.

All of these skill sets they work on through the rookie academy translate to more than one tactic, Jackson said.

Four new rookies on the truck floor at Great Falls Fire Rescue

For the roof ventilation portion, the firefighters gear up, hop in the truck and simulate arrival at a scene and pulling all the necessary tools from the truck. In full gear, including the self-contained breathing apparatus, they use ladders or make entry as they would at a real incident.20180614_144949.jpg

“We train in the context of ladders, SCBAs, noise,” Jackson said. “The only thing that’s missing is fire.”

After finishing a few iterations of the roof ventilation training, Lindskog said things were going smoother as she was mastering more skills at about the two-week mark.

The rookie training is physically demanding and fitness is required to succeed, Lindskog said. She was already training in case she had to retest with the consortium and that include a lot of running, aerobic and upper body training.

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On June 15, Lindskog got her first experience with a live burn at the training center.

For the first time through the live fire exercise, she said she didn’t really know what to do, but the training officers and other firefighters were teaching as she went through.

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Their masks fog up, making it even harder to see inside dark, smoky structures, but they also used the thermal camera to watch for heat.

The repetition in training is helpful in learning what to do and building confidence, she said. Feeling the heat is also useful and she could tell the second time in that the fire as hotter than the first.

“Just having that experience will be really helpful,” Lindskog said.

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Firefighter Maren Reilly, center, after running a live burn scenario during the rookie academy in June 2018. Photo by Jenn Rowell | The Electric

It was also her first day training with Maren Reilly, the other female firefighter at GFFR.

Growing up in small town Montana, she never knew firefighting was an option, Reilly said. She was attending graduate school in Billings, met a guy there and got interested in firefighting. She got on at the Lockwood Fire District as a reserve firefighter and also got her master’s degree in education.

Reilly said it took time for everyone to adjust to having a female firefighter on the truck floor but overall, it’s been good.

“You don’t get a job with 60 guys if you’re thin-skinned,” Reilly said.

She said the male firefighters are always respectful, but “I never want them to feel like they can’t be themselves.”

Far fewer females are attracted to the job and it’s very physical, Reilly said, “but there’s obviously still a place for females.”

Nationally, women make a small percentage of the professional fire service.

According to data from the National Fire Protection Association, the annual average of total firefighters from 2012-2016 was 289,200. Of that, 13,100 or 4.5 percent, were women.

Since GFFR runs medical calls and roughly half the population is female, it makes sense to have women on the fire engines to help treat those patients.

Reilly and several other firefighters at GFFR told The Electric that it’s less about men and women and more about making the city a safer place.

“It’s definitely doable,” for women, Reilly said. “It’s more about can you do the job and make Great Falls safer.”

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She recommended that anyone interested in becoming a firefighters get involved in a volunteer fire department to get a feel for what it’s like.

“I would have never known that I wanted to do this if I hadn’t gotten on with Lockwood,” she said.

Last Friday was Lindskog’s last day assigned to a training officer and she was wrapping up her state certification requirements.

She and other firefighters were training with a propane prop that simulates gas leaks. It requires a wider water spray to hit the burning gases over the firefighters heads as they approach the turnoff valve. They also did a surprise car fire scenario.

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Now, Lindskog will continue training with the engine companies while on shift with GFFR specific skills and tactics.

“The realities of how we do business,” Jackson said.

He said Lindskog was doing great.

“She’s an awesome young lady. I’m really impressed with her.”

 

Shane Klippenes, GFFR training officer, said the rookie academy is focused on large tactical components that will give the department a barometer of whether a new firefighter will be successful.

“The certification process is building blocks,” he said.

Now, Lindskog has nine months as a probationary firefighter to work through more training requirements while on shift.

She’ll get her shift assignment on July 16 and start running calls.

There’s still a lot to learn, but Lindskog said she’s ready to continue challenging herself.

 

“At first I thought ‘oh my gosh this is so much,'” she said on Friday. “I have learned so much. I feel confident with showing up to a fire, but I’m still nervous. But you’re never alone when you respond to a fire.”