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Iowa Hero Academy inspires future female first responders

JOHNSTON, Iowa – Des Moines Police and Fire Departments are giving young women a first-hand look at what it takes to join the ranks in the first-ever Iowa Hero Academy.

Twenty-six young women are spending the week at Camp Dodge to learn how to become firefighters and police officers.

“I’m really happy about this and I like the career a lot so I think I will definitely do this,” Taylor Rounds, from Urbandale, said.

From running the fire hose to conducting a traffic stop, females already in the profession are teaching them what it takes.

“So being able to show them what that looks like and allowing them to see for themselves, go out and do it,” Jessica Bastian, Senior Police Officer with the Des Moines Police, said. “And build that confidence, self-esteem, teamwork, all those things that we want to see in future officers, future firefighters, first responders all around.”

Des Moines Police and Fire put on the learning opportunity. Sponsors made it so each girl could participate for free.

“To see a shift in women that want to take on what are typically male-dominated careers and actually excel in them,” Hali VanVelzen, firefighter and medic with Des Moines Fire, said, “it’s so exciting and it’s very empowering.”

It wasn’t just something to sign up for. Each girl had to apply to get in by submitting an essay, going through an interview process, and explaining why they would be a good fit.

“This seems amazing and just the rush that they get just going into fires and just helping people out in general,” Ayanna Murray, from Ankeny, said. “It’s just good and it’s good to have as a career.”

They’re not just from the metro. Keeli Heald came from Sioux City where her dad is a police officer.

“He’s a male in a male-dominated industry,” Heald said, “and then seeing what the women do, it’s just incredible. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

From the classroom to the training ground, the girls ages 15 to 18 are gaining experience for the future, while building relationships along the way.

“I have no doubt that these 26 young ladies,” VanVelzen said, “they’ll succeed in whatever they do.”

The Iowa Hero Academy ends Friday with a graduation ceremony for the participants.

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