MARCH 17, 2023 – Beads of sweat dripped down her face and collected at the bottom of her mask. Her firefighting suit and breathing apparatus were heavy and weighed her down. She crawled forward and pulled the 175-pound “dummy” another 20 feet. It was her third and final drag of the fire victim removal evaluation with only minutes left to complete the task.
“I just knew in my heart that firefighting was what I was meant to do,” said Idaho Army National Guard Pfc. Bailey Craig. “I didn’t give myself any other choice than to get through the evaluation and, ultimately, the academy.”
The evaluation is known by students and instructors as the most physically demanding part of the fire academy, especially for a small woman like Craig, who is 5 feet, 6 inches tall and 130 pounds.
“I heard the academy had a high fail rate and that females don’t really make it,” said Craig. “Everyone I met up to that point said, ‘You’re not really big, the dummies are and that’s going to be tough for you.’ I went into it with the mindset that I’m going to do it because there really is no other option.”
Craig, who joined the Idaho Guard in October 2021, passed the evaluation on her first attempt. She later became a class leader and graduated from the academy in December 2022. She now serves in the Idaho Army National Guard’s 937th Engineer Detachment and is the unit’s first female to earn the 12M firefighter military occupational specialty.
“I wasn’t aware that I was the unit’s first female qualified 12M firefighter until I got back from training,” said Craig. “I hope I’m not the last one. I hope I’m the first of several. It was tough, but I got here, and if I can, then other females can, too.”
The 68-day academy, located at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, is the only Department of Defense basic firefighting training academy in the country. During her training, Craig learned firefighting fundamentals and earned certifications in airport firefighting, hazardous materials awareness, emergency medical response and more.
She said the course was physically and mentally challenging but fun.
“Prayer was big for me, and going out there every day with a positive mindset,” said Craig. “I watched a lot of my friends fail out through the course, and by the end of it, I was very used to being one of a few, if not the only, females left.”
In February, Craig attended her first training with the 937th Engineer detachment. She met fellow Guardsmen and learned to fine-tune some of the firefighting skills she picked up in the academy.
“Already, after a few days at my first drill, I learned so much to help me become a better firefighter,” said Craig. “I’ve gotten a lot of hands-on training, like how to hold the fire hose nozzle a certain way for my weight. That’s a big one for me since I’m not very big myself. I’m having to learn things the way everyone else does but then tweak them a little to work for me because of my size.”
Despite her size, Craig said she became stronger in the academy, which helped her meet the physical demands of the job. Hard labor is something Craig said she is used to, having grown up working on her family’s ranch.
Born and raised in Melba, Craig spent her days working on the ranch while also training horses, completing high school online and enjoying the outdoors.
She is currently studying animal veterinary science at the College of Western Idaho. After she completes her associate’s program in May, Craig plans to study fire science and get a full-time job as a civilian firefighter.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to learn all different types of techniques in my Guard unit to help me become a better firefighter overall,” said Craig. “The guys here just know so much and are so helpful. I hope to become part of their family and a valuable member of their team, so I’m someone they can trust in any situation.”
By Crystal Farris, Idaho Army National Guard