Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Badd Axe Ladies sparks interest in fire service careers

Katie Lipe (Left), Josephine Bailey (Center), Kulisara Lukes (Right) pose in front of the Carbondale, IL Fire Truck. March 20th, 2024

In a weekend packed with empowerment and education, eight young women seized the opportunity to step into the world of firefighting. The Badd Axe Ladies job-shadowing program was not just about teaching skills, but also about igniting passion and showing that gender is no barrier to the ability to provide service.


Over four days, students from SIU and local high schools got to participate in a number of activities at the Carbondale Fire Department. 



Courtney Looft, a firefighter and a co-organizer of the event, said, “The weekend is a two day event where they’re actually getting hands-on experience to do all the different types of skills. They learn forcible entry, hose management, search techniques and then the big event is they actually get to see fire behavior and how it develops and interacts with different elements.”


Earlier in the week, the women had the option to choose between two days of preparation, which helped them gear up for the live fire-burn over the weekend. 


These sessions included a station tour and observation of firefighters in action. Participants also received hands-on training, practicing gear donning, handling air tanks and participating in a quick call. These experiences provided exposure to the urgency and teamwork essential in firefighting.



Looft said, “We’re really trying to inspire the younger generation of females to look into the fire service as a career opportunity. Myself and my colleague Abby [Burnham], who helped create the program, had the benefit of our dads being firefighters. So we already kind of knew we could be firefighters too. We saw it day to day growing up.” 


Looft and Burnham recognized that not all young women have the same exposure to firefighting, so they decided to create a program aimed at demonstrating the opportunities available in the field. They chose to schedule the annual program during March to coincide with Women’s History Month, aiming to celebrate and highlight the contributions of women in firefighting. 


Looft said, “They [participants] are able to see people that are females in male dominated fields and vice versa. Seeing males that are in female dominated fields is also very important so that we can create some equality across the field and offer services to diverse populations and communities.”

Josephine Bailey laughs with the other ladies as she puts on her helmet at the Carbondale, IL Fire Station (2). March 20th, 2024

Working with younger students who have an interest in the industry is especially beneficial. It gives participants the opportunity to spend a day with people who are passionate and dedicated to their work, especially girls who aren’t necessarily sure about their career yet but want to explore their options. 


“That’s exactly what this program is about. If you’re unsure you can try this three day experience. Be like, ‘wow, I’m really passionate about it. I want to pursue this.’ We can then show these young girls the steps you can take, or just overall if they just want to go through the program to appreciate what firefighters do, but maybe it’s not for them, that’s perfectly fine, too,” Looft said.


By figuring out interests and career options early, students can start figuring out the steps they must go through in order to begin their career path. Looft said that often the younger you determine that, the easier it is. 


She said, “I started off at 16…I knew I wanted to be a firefighter, so I joined this program through my high school where I got to do an internship at a fire department. Then I went to college to get my fire science degree.”


The continuity and impact of the program could be seen as students participating in the program this year had the opportunity to talk to two previous members of the program who have gotten their EMT license in the years since attending the Badd Axe Ladies program. 


Students were required to submit applications to participate, showcasing their interest in firefighting and their readiness to engage in hands-on learning experiences. Some of the participants already were similarly passionate about the field and were eager to gain experience through the event. 


Participant Josephine Bailey said, “I’m most excited about the training, and just learning new things, because I had a struggle figuring out what I wanted to do. But, I feel like this is the stuff that I want to do and I’m really passionate about, so I’m just excited to see how I’m going to do.”


She said her prior experiences helped her gain interest in the profession. 


“I literally just watched a show. It had firefighters and it looked cool, so I started studying it more, and looking into it more. Also my mom knows a lot about fires because she’s had her house on fire. We lost everything. So she knows all about fire safety, and I like helping people,” Bailey said. 


Other students were contemplating alternative career paths or just had an interest in the roles firefighters have in society. 


Participant Katie Lipe said she wanted to join the program to explore career ideas and see what she could do. She was excited about the hands-on opportunities of the weekend.


“I just can’t wait to get in the fire,” Lipe said. 


Kulisara Lukes is a student at SIU. She said, “Currently I’m majoring in mortuary science, so I would say I have a passion for serving the community. And now, it’s also why I was interested in coming here…I want to be able to interact with the people within my community by helping them and getting to know them.”


She said she wanted to explore other career opportunities to see how an institution such as this one would work within itself and how people work together as one. 


Jenna Jamieson, SIU Public Health Undergraduate Program director and instructor, helped with recruitment for this program, trying to select and find young ladies that she thought would be interested in learning more about the community service aspect of firefighting. 


Jamieson said, “Courtney and Abby are giving this program to young ladies just as another way in which they’re giving to our community. It allows young girls to see what fire service is all about, because I think part of college and high school is mentoring students to help them understand all the different careers we have in the community.”


Opportunities like this one are often overlooked, and individuals may not consider it as a potential career path. 


“A lot of times we go off at 16 or 18, and try to figure out what we want to do. Often, we don’t even realize that being a female in a fire station is a really big value to our community,” Jamieson said. 


She believes more students could benefit from the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of their community.


Jamieson said, “From a public health perspective, I think it’s just important for students to see the value of fire service, because I think we often undervalue the people that serve our community. Public service employees give a lot to our community.”


Jamieson first mentored at Carbondale High School as a teacher in charge of job shadowing. She said that position is the reason she met Looft and Burnham.


“At first we kind of just did a little bit of job shadowing, and then Courtney and Abby are responsible for developing the program,” Jamieson said. 


This year marked the program’s third consecutive year.


She said, “At first it may have just been a little bit less formulated. But I think that Courtney and Abby have been interested in developing this kind of structured program for several years now.”


Following each event, participants are encouraged to provide feedback on their experience, ensuring continual improvement and refinement of the program.


Looft said, “Every year that we’ve done it, we’ve added a little extra to or we’ve changed something. The first year we did it with just the high school girls at Carbondale. It was only one day that we had the girls and we tried to jam packed so much into that one day, so we figured out we need to expand it to two days.”


With the event extended over multiple days, it provided the opportunity for a more comprehensive and immersive experience for participants.


The Carbondale community assisted this program through the sponsoring of gear and events this year. Firefighting gear can often amount to several thousand dollars; however, with the support of Sentinel Emergency Solutions, Dinges Fire Company and LION, each participant was able to be fit for full, protective gear. 


Other changes to the program have included adding more schools. This year the program reached out to Carbondale High School, Murphysboro High School, SIU and John A. Logan Community College.


Looft said, “The more that we can reach the population, the younger the females the better. We want to reach every community and population that we can.”


To learn more about the program, check out the Badd Axe Ladies on Facebook


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