CLEVELAND - When the fire department shows up to save your house, you know they're up for the challenge because every firefighter in the region has to pass a physical test.
The test, like the one performed at the Cuyahoga Community College Fire Training Center, mimics five tasks firefighters have to perform while responding to a fire, alternating between targeting lower body and upper body muscles, trying to tire out cadets.
"In the first five to ten minutes on scene at a fire, firefighters are doing some of the most physically demanding work that one could ever encounter," said Cuyahoga Community College Fire Training Commander Daniel Waitkus.
"It's a barrier for anybody that walks in and doesn't know how to prepare for it," said Cleveland Battalion Chief Deberra Schroeder.
Battalion Chief Schroeder is one of the three women left in the entire department. She said closing the gender gap is more about building a community for women to succeed.
"If you teach them the right way, that they, because of their body, should swing something or carry something, then they'll do it because they want the job," said Schroeder, referring to female cadets.
Schroeder says it doesn't just start with the roughly three percent of female cadets that Tri-C says they usually have in their program. Younger girls would notice if female firefighters are on a scene and could be inspired to be one, just like Schroeder said they already are when they see female police officers or paramedics.
"When I would drive on the fire rig, people would point," Schroeder said. "Little girls or ladies would point like, 'Look, there's a female."
Schroeder became a firefighter with a group of other women all at once.
She said she wants to build that again.
"I would tell them to call me," said Schroeder. "I want my next generation of women on the Cleveland Fire Department."