Calif. Female Firefighter Top Recruit of Graduating Class
Jan. 05—PANORAMA CITY—Caroline Carpenter of Long Beach became the first woman to earn honors as top recruit and class leader Thursday during graduation ceremonies for 52 Los Angeles Fire Department recruits at the Valley Recruit Training Academy 81.
"I'm small," said Carpenter, 26, "but I got a big heart."
"She stands out," said LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas to an audience that included Carpenter's family and friends.
"No pressure, Caroline," Terrazas told her as the crowd applauded. "You can do it... 35 more years. You got this."
Carpenter explained that top-recruit status meant she earned the highest overall combined score in tests that include ladder, hose and academic assessments. She was selected to serve as class leader for her fellow graduates, too, she said.
"It's definitely an honor," said Carpenter, a single mother of a 4-and-a-half-year-old son named Dewey. "But I'm just a recruit like anyone else."
When asked about the unprecedented winter wildfires that scorched much of Southern California in December, Carpenter said she was "ready to work."
"That's what I've been looking forward to since May, really," said Carpenter, who said she will be placed at Station 6 near Silver Lake.
Carpenter and her peers completed a 20-week training curriculum, authorities said. The graduation ceremony was followed by a skills demonstration from the class' 49 men and three women.
"That badge was somebody's before you," Mayor Eric Garcetti told recruits during the ceremony. "It will be somebody's after you. And just as I have the title of mayor for one period in my life you'll have the title of firefighter for what I hope will be a great part of your professional life."
New graduate Connor Thompson, 26, of Huntington Beach, said he was looking forward to battling future blazes—though he was disappointed he was not able to help battle the winter wildfires.
"It was a bummer because we were still in the drill tower," Thompson said. " They didn't let us go and help for obvious reasons. But that just made us more excited, more motivated to get out of here and go and help."
Thompson said Carpenter "deserves every moment" of the accolades she has received.
"She proved herself," said Thompson, who will head to Station 27 in Hollywood. "Females are just as capable as males with this job. She's a little bit shorter so she had a lot of aspects to overcome as far as ladders. But she made it and overcame those things."
Graduate Darion Timmons, 24, of Paramount, said he was eager to get into action. He'll start at Station 35 in Los Feliz. "It's motivating because now I'm able to help the community," he said.
Timmons also took time to congratulate Carpenter and shared that he "wished there were more women" working in the fire department.