Female firefighter recruits aim to challenge boys club mentality

9 of 46 recruits in Orange County are women

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – This year, there are 46 recruits who aspire to be the next firefighters of Orange County. Among the group, nine are women.

"Sometimes, when people see females in their group, they think that she's gonna be the lesser," said Belinda Rennes, a recent graduate of the non-certified recruit class. 

She remembers that as a recruit, she refused to be seen as the weak link in a field dominated by men. 

"It was always my job to not only prove myself as a female but to show that I'm not only as good as the guys but I can be better than the guys and make them work hard when they're working with me as well," said Rennes, who now helps train other recruits.

LaShun Nale-Stadeem, assistant chief of training, said female recruits are treated the same as men in the group.

"There are no concessions for female or male firefighter. Everyone is held to the same standard," Nale-Stadeem said.

She says that even though more women have joined the fire service, there's still work to be done.

"I still think that there is a culture to overcome that believes that females should not be in the fire service. We still have that male mentality that this is a boys club but we're actively and very progressively working through that," Nale-Stadeem said.

To get a taste of what it's like to be a recruit, News 6 reporter Carolina Cardona tried out a few of the rigorous exercises they have to endure. After doing some rowing, pulling and dragging, she thought it was best to stick to story telling.

Although there may not be enough females in this field, Rennes said they just need to believe in themselves. 

"Just because you're a female doesn't mean you're any less strong than everyone else. You can do this job and it's made for anyone as long as you have the desire to want to do it," Rennes said.

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