(NewsNation) — As a fire captain, a lot of Julie Mau’s job involves dealing with human suffering.
It can take a toll — but luckily the group of women she works with at the San Francisco Fire Department help her when things get rough.
“We need to be here not only for our citizens and the people we serve, but we need to be here for each other,” Mau said.
At the San Francisco Fire Department, women make up about 12% of the uniformed staff or roughly 200 out of more than 1,700 employees. This is one of the highest ratios of female firefighters in a department in the U.S.
While the number of female firefighters is increasing, women still make up less than 5% of career firefighters in the U.S.
Growing up, Mau didn’t see a lot of people who looked like her in the fire service.
“It was all guys,” she said.
Chief Jeanine Nicholson of the San Francisco Fire Department knows what that’s like. Starting at the department 28 years ago, she never pictured herself running it. There are only about 150 female fire chiefs in the U.S.
“I’ve found that I can rise to the occasion with things and I like making order out of chaos,” she said. “That’s what we do sometimes when we go to calls.”
On a standard 24-hour shift, Mau is in charge of more than 30 other firefighters.
“I think on a certain level, women provide a different sense of empathy and compassion,” Mau said.
Both women attribute much of their success to their mentors. And now, they do the same for other young women by leading a fire training camp for girls in the summer.
“Their confidence has just really grown because they’re able to climb the 100-foot aerial ladder to the top,” Mau said. “They’re able to put on all their gear and go put out a fire.”
A Hawaii native, Mau uses hula dancing to feel closer to home. She likens the traditional Hawaiian dance to how she feels about her co-workers.
“In the whole world, we say hula is life. But really it’s about connection, moving as one,” Mau said. “And so like the fire service and being on the rig, you’re all moving together.”