K-State junior unique in occupation

Brooke Harshaw, junior in agricultural communications and journalism, is a part-time firefighter with Manhattan's student fire program, and is the only female firefighter in the city. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

Brook Harshaw is more than just a junior in agriculture communications and journalism. She is a firefighter.

Harshaw explained why she chose to be a part of the student fire program for the city of Manhattan.

“It’s a public service and I want to be a servant any way I can, and that, coupled with my family and friends’ influences, really is what formed the idea of me being a firefighter,” Harshaw said.

According to Harshaw, sitting in a classroom did not feel right. At the beginning of her sophomore year, she resorted to googling “fire jobs” which ultimately led her to the K-State program. That same day, she made the decision to call up the fire chief and asked to come speak with him.

“When Brooke first called and told me about this, I was excited for her,” Brett Harshaw, Brooke’s father, said.

Since she could not apply until February, Harshaw did everything possible to prepare, going as far as to hire a personal trainer. Once hired, Brooke attended academy, which she described as “five weeks of intense book work and physical training.”

Now a part-time firefighter, Harshaw discussed the parts of her job that she takes pleasure in.

“I don’t dislike any of it,” Brooke said. “I enjoy training and I enjoy (public relations) stuff; I enjoy those calls that suck, you know, the ones that get you up in the middle of the night.”

When asked what some of the more rewarding aspects of the job are, Brooke described watching children’s faces light up when they see the fire truck when giving a presentation.

“They just have a giant smile on their face,” Brooke said. “All that just makes it a very rewarding career in itself.”

Brooke encourages other young girls and women to get involved at the fire department if that seems like a good fit for them.

“There’s kind of three things that really make up your ability to be a firefighter if you’re a female,” Brooke said. “First, what motivates you? What motivates me is the community and to be able to help other people. The second thing is how determined you are; are you willing to go the extra mile to make sure you’re a good firefighter?”

Brooke also emphasized the importance of education.

“I spend a lot of time looking at the old textbooks or re-reading some of my EMT stuff, so when we get medical calls I’m not completely clueless,” Brooke said. “Really, it’s just continuing your education within firefighting and being determined whether that’s physically or mentally.”

The final requirement has nothing to do with a woman’s physical strength or knowledge of medical procedures. It’s about confidence.

“Third is just how able you think you are,” Brooke said. “Because if you go into something thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I can’t really do it,’ then you can’t, you know? You put that mental roadblock up and all of a sudden you’re not going anywhere. Just staying focused and committed is a big deal.”

While Brooke has gone through all the work and training, her passion and hard work has shown through in the work place. Manhattan Fire Department Battalion Chief Steven Shepek has noticed Harshaw’s character and commitment.

“Brooke has done a great job for our department,” Shepek said. “Her desire to learn and aggressive passion for training has helped her to learn the job quickly.”

Shepek, who sat in on Harshaw’s hiring process, said he noticed her drive even then.

“You could tell she has a drive to be the best she can be,” Shepek said. “Brooke has fit in well with our shift, and experiences her share of good-hearted kidding, but she takes it well and knows the shift is there for her.”

Harshaw plans on becoming a full-time firefighter in the near future. She is currently completing an EMT course that will further her career as well as heading toward a degree in agricultural communications and journalism.

Shepek praised Harshaw’s reliability and passion for firefighting.

“Brooke can be counted on to complete tasks assigned and she seems to enjoy all of the assignments,” Shepek said. “I hope that whatever career she chooses, that she takes some of what she has learned from the fire service with her”