Melania Hudack, 19 and Ashley Cazier, 20 are not your typical young women.
Hudack and Cazier graduated from the Salem County Fire Academy's Firefighter I course in December, which included 20-weeks of coursework combined with intense physical fitness, and practical skills training covering all aspects of firefighting.
They graduated with a class of five other firefighters, all of whom were men. And they now join the ranks of the Hockessin Fire Company, a volunteer-based company surrounded by veteran firefighters, the majority of whom are male.
Both women said that even while they were in the Firefighter course, they felt as if they were being judged. "If we were throwing ladders, an instructor would stand behind us in case it fell," Cazier said.
"The guys would always help us or give us the easy jobs," Hudack said.
Hudack and Cazier have been friends since sixth grade and got the idea to become firefighters after a job fair at their high school, Conrad School of Science. "We also took a lot of patient care classes, so we were used to helping people," Cazier said.
Once their applications were approved by the Fire Company and they passed an interview and initial physical, they decided to enroll in the Salem County Fire Academy's Firefighter I course, which they preferred because it was an accelerated course. "We knew it would be hard but we had fun and met a lot of people," Hudack said.
Now that they are officially members of the Fire Company, they are doing what they can to try and demonstrate their value, spending as much of their free time at the station as possible. "We have to prove ourselves that we want to be firefighters just like them," Cazier said.
Hudack attends the University of Delaware and is studying philosophy and Cazier is a business management student at Goldey-Beacom College. Both women head to the station after class and spend the majority of their evening there. "Everyone else does it," they said.
The station has been pretty quiet since they started, so Hudack and Cazier have only been on a few minor calls, including a car accident with entrapment. But when a big call does come in, Hudack and Cazier aren't worried about the size of the blaze they might have to face: "I am most afraid of messing up, not of the fire," Hudack said.