Meet Henderson’s First Female Firefighter, Kayla Hammel
Finding the right career path can be difficult, but with the right attitude it can be achieved. Kayla Hammel graduated with top academics from University of Evansville. She had ambition and wanted to make a difference but working 3rd shift as a domestic abuse and drug rehab counselor for YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) didn’t feel like the place for her. “I really don’t like having a desk job or doing computer work. I’m an athletic person and I want to be active.” Kayla explains.
Kayla had always thought about taking a firefighter class, but she just never got around to doing it. Then, she came across a job posting for a Henderson firefighter. “I was like yeah! I’m going for it, I’ve got nothing to lose!” She recalls.
Making the Cut
“No training is required before becoming a firefighter with the City of Henderson.” Chief of Henderson Fire Department, Scott Foreman, explains. They train to the 400-hour Kentucky firefighter certification that leads into Firefighter 1 & 2 training before the year’s end. They also train to the level of EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), HazMat (Hazardous Material) awareness and operations, and 4 levels of NIMS (National Incident Management System).
Kayla had to pass CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test) before getting an interview. The test was like an obstacle course to demonstrate physical ability and good control over tools. The leading cause of death in firefighters is cardiac, so they take the training serious and want to make sure everyone is physically qualified for the work. The test was comprised of several endurance and control exercises such as: stair climbs with a weighted vest, hose pulls, pulling a ladder and extending it, carrying a power saw back and forth, pulling a dummy, and a pike and pull with weights. “I didn’t think there was any way I’d pass. They gave me a book to study, and I spent months studying for the written part of the test. They also told me what workouts to do to get ready, and I did them. I guess it all worked because I passed!” Kayla exclaims.
The guys Kayla went through training with really made her experience great. They bonded well as a team and cheered each other on. They kept each other’s spirits up and kept each other laughing to keep their minds off the exhaustion. “It was hard, and I thought I was going to die afterwards. You must be able to not only push past your physical barriers, but also your mental barriers. There is a lot of mental work that goes into being a firefighter.” Kayla states.
Mentality of a Firefighter
Firefighters must be able to work well in a team environment, as well as, the ability to work alone. They are professional individuals who truly love serving, teaching, and mentoring other people and their community.
Chief Foreman explains, “The best firefighters are those with life experiences that enable them to make decisions, think outside the box, face adversity with enthusiasm, and develop leadership skills. Most are driven alpha type individuals who are eager to be on the front lines, can foresee actions, and implement plans for success. They are thick skinned individuals who remain humble and understand the meaning of empathy. Firefighters are here to help, and they should be eager to meet the needs any citizen may have.”
Firefighters are usually engaged in three to four public relation events per week ranging from station tours to speaking at a block party. The Henderson Fire Department not only responds to fires and fire alarms, but all life-threatening medical emergencies which include: rope rescue, water rescue, dive (scuba) rescue, confined space rescue, gas leaks, and hazardous materials response.
Kayla explains, “It’s all about teamwork here, because if I mess up, it hinders everyone and puts people’s lives at risk. My job isn’t any more important than anyone else’s. Everyone’s job here directly affects another’s performance, and we all have to be on point to make it a successful run.”
The fire department is a family that will spend 1/3 of their working life at the fire station alongside their coworkers. “You get really close when you work, train, eat, and relax all with the same group of firefighters.” Chief Foreman adds.
“We cook here all the time, and we play games together like cards or basketball. We watch movies and talk while sitting around the dinner table. I love hearing about other’s past experiences because it gives me a glimpse at what could happen. I have to be prepared for any and everything.” Kayla expresses.
Kayla believes it was her family that led her to where she is today, and the fire department has become an extension of that family. Her father taught her that if she wanted to be good at something she’d have to practice repeatedly. “I didn’t join to make history. I just joined because it was something I wanted to do. It’s a place I belong, and I just happen to be the first female hired.” Kayla states.
Chief Foreman adds, “We always try to look for the best candidate when we interview. Kayla was very honest and forth coming with her answers. She had an all-around good interview, and we believe her personality is a perfect fit for the position. We are all excited to have her on board, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.”
If You’re Thinking About Becoming a Firefighter
*Purchase some training material and start studying for the exams.
*Start hitting the gym more and start lifting weights.
*Take a firefighting course at the community college.
Kayla exclaims, “If you’re thinking you might want to do it, my advice is to just go for it! Don’t talk yourself out of it!”
Erika Henderson is a freelance writer and life-long resident of Henderson County. She’s a nature lover and enjoys cooking, baking, and growing her own food.
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