WESTBROOK – Westbrook High School freshman Paige Fogg got into the heavy firefighters’ pants and jacket with some effort. A classmate helped by tightening the pant straps looping over her shoulders. A firefighter tucked Fogg’s hair into the hood and pulled the mask over her face.
“Ah, this is wicked heavy,” she said. “Oh my God.”
She still had a ways to go before she was in full gear. There was also the helmet, heavy gloves and the air pack worn on her back. Then there was the air tank, the ax and the Halligan bar, a picklike tool, she would carry on a fire call.
Fogg was among the girls getting a taste of firefighting Friday from Westbrook firefighter Rachael Welsh at the Totally Trades Conference. The event, organized by the training group Women, Work and Community, aimed to expose girls to jobs typically held by men.
About 75 girls from several high schools participated in the event at Westbrook Regional Vocational Center. During workshop sessions, they investigated a mock crime scene, tried out computer-aided design, constructed model bridges and learned about cable installation, among other things. They also heard from women in male-dominated fields during panel discussions.
The idea is to help girls understand the range of programs and careers available to them – and the sort of wages they offer, said Carolyn May, regional manager for Women, Work and Community. She noted that there aren’t enough qualified workers to meet the demand for some of these positions, like electricians and engineers.
“Why shouldn’t they be women?” May said.
Transportation projects that receive federal funding are required to provide on-the-job training to minority and female workers. It’s not easy to fulfill those goals, according to Theresa Savoy, director of the state Department of Transportation’s civil rights office. The department helped fund the conference.
There’s a shortage of qualified workers for metal products jobs such as welding and machining, said Adam Fisher, a spokesman for the state Labor Department. Opportunities are expected to open up in other skilled trades as Maine’s work force ages, he said.
“Young women, like all workers, need to be strategic in understanding where the opportunities are and thinking about job opportunities that will position them for stability,” Fisher said in a telephone interview.
In the heavy equipment workshop, the students tried out the excavator simulators.
They would then operate the skid steer outside – a prospect that intimidated at least one girl.
Elaine Cota, a highway crew supervisor with the Department of Transportation, told the girls they have to face their fears.
“Don’t ever turn away from it. Face it head on,” she said.
Haley Sargent and Serrisa Burham, juniors at Sacopee Valley High School in Hiram, have already had plenty of experience with activities typically associated with males. Sargent has helped her father in the log yard and has worked in car detailing.
Burham has welded with her father and has done a lot of construction work, including on a barn at her home.
Both expected a good time at the conference.
“I had a blast,” Burham said. “It’s good to try new things.”
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]