LIFESTYLELifeYou Can’t Be What You Can’t See: Women in Fire

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: Women in Fire

By: Rachael Savoie

It’s the classic firefighter stock image; a tall man dressed in red, walking through a fiery blaze. Meet Rachael Staebell and Khalilah Yancey; the female faces of a new MSA Safety campaign that are setting classic stock photos on fire. 

Rachael and Khalilah are both active members of the firefighting industry, working their way up into impressive rankings within their departments. Rachael, currently a Lieutenant at the Colorado Springs Fire Department, grew up playing soccer and started her career as a paramedic. A fellow firefighter suggested that she take the admissions test, so she gave it a try.

“For me personally as a woman, I’m very lucky that I found a career that I fit…nowhere in my whole life have I ever been comfortable with my size or my athleticism, unless I was on a soccer field, and so when I joined the fire service, that was just like being on a soccer team…this is what I can use my skill set for,” says Rachael.

Khalilah, now a Deputy Chief for the Baltimore City Fire Department learned about firefighting through a cadet program that was offered to high school students. She always knew she wanted to serve others and began her career in labour and delivery with The Johns Hopkins Hospital using certifications she acquired in the cadet program. She later transitioned into the fire service after a hiring event was held. 

“They had this big hiring event and I filled out to go back into the [fire] department…I passed the test, and they were like do the interview, and they offered the job,” explains Khalilah. “I feel like it was destined for me…I still felt like it was a sense of giving back.”

Both women are active members of Women in Fire, a non-profit organization devoted to providing resources to female firefighters across the nation. Rachael is vice-president and Khalilah acts as secretary-treasurer. After MSA Safety, a global supplier of safety equipment, proposed a campaign idea to them, Rachael and Khalilah received custom-made gear and found themselves headed to Pittsburgh for a photoshoot. 

“They had it set up in a really cool old church,” Rachael recalls. “There was a professional photographer there and everything was green-screened behind us. I had never seen anything like it.”

It wasn’t until the women found themselves at FDIC International, the largest firefighter conference in the world, that they started to feel the true impact of the photos. These weren’t just flyers passed around but gigantic images displayed on the show floor for more than 30,000 guests.

“For me as an African American female, you never see images of yourself or people that look like me displaying gear for the fire service. Walking on the showroom floor and seeing the MSA Safety campaign was just…breathtaking,” says Khalilah. 

For MSA Safety, bringing this campaign to life was an idea that came to members of the marketing and creative teams who wanted to represent the true diversity that exists within the profession. They actively support Women in Fire and wanted Rachael and Khalilah to be celebrated for their efforts within their organizations.

“Our long-standing partnership with Women in Fire provided the perfect opportunity to showcase the number of strong women who comprise their organization in our core photo assets, which are being used across multiple campaigns and events,” says Amy Puff, Senior Regional Marketing Communications Manager for MSA Safety. “These women’s grit, purpose, and passion comes through to create incredibly impactful imagery throughout our campaigns.”

Khalilah wants the campaign to inspire other women to never give up. She has been the first of many titles in her department and still finds it challenging to get properly fitted gear for her short stature. For a service that has been in existence since 1787, she thinks we can do much better.

She explains, “I’m destined to be that voice for other women in the job…you can’t be what you can’t see and I want to make sure that I am always continuously trying to be that face, that voice…for young women out there that don’t think they can do it. You can do it.” 

Rachael and Khalilah’s friendship thrives on their differences, which makes them feel even more alike as they refer to each other as “twins”. Their hope is that other large companies will take note of MSA Safety’s courage to break barriers for women and that Women in Fire will continue to be a resource for not just women, but all firefighters needing support.  

“[MSA] put their money where their mouth was as a big company,” says Rachael. “That was a risk and they believe in that and that’s who they are…it just came at a time when [Women in Fire] are really just springboarding ourselves into a really good place of advocacy and helping women across the country…[MSA] chose us and we are really really proud of that.”

You can check out Women in Fire by visiting their website: https://womeninfire.org/

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