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July 9, 2013

Lady of the firehouse: Brandy Bedilion battles blazes with the boys

NEW CASTLE — Onlookers might be surprised when one of the newest members of the Scott Township Volunteer Fire Department removes his helmet.

The he actually is a she.

For the first time in Scott Township VFD history, a woman has attained Firefighter I status and is working in the trenches with the men.

And that woman, Brandy Bedilion, says she won’t feel insulted one bit if her gender is put aside when lives and homes are at stake.

“I have to be able to hold my own,” the Harlansburg resident said. “When I have my gear on, you shouldn’t be able to pick out the girl out there.

“In fact, if you can, then I’m not doing something right.”

MADE FOR FIREFIGHTING

The 36-year-old Bedilion was born on a farm in Greene County, but moved to a farm in Harlansburg with her mother in 1995, completing her senior year of high school at Laurel.

She enlisted in the Army following her graduation and spent seven years as a member of the military police before going on to college at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Five years ago, she returned to Greene County and followed in the footsteps of her grandparents, uncles and cousins, lending a hand on the family farm and joining the Richhill Township Volunteer Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter.

Last fall, she returned to her mother’s home Harlansburg so she could attend the New Castle School of Trades while accepting an internship as a diesel and heavy equipment mechanic at Cleveland Brothers Equipment Co. in Cranberry.

Although her plate already was full —  especially after she assumed guardianship of her 8-year-old nephew, Caden, a year after his birth —  Bedilion was introduced to Scott Township fire chief Jack Hitchen and she decided to join his department.

“I never worry about taking on too much,” she said. “I know my limits. My mother always says a person should always stay busy enough to stay out of trouble. And that works well for me because I’ve always been a fidgety person. I’ve never been one to sit still.”

She spent four months at the Lawrence County Fire Academy, conducted at the Neshannock Volunteer Fire Company, as she pursued the status of Firefighter 1, which expanded her training and certified her to hold a paid job as a firefighter.

Before she gained her Firefighter I accreditation, she had to take and pass a state-certified test, which included a two-hour written exam and a day-long physical skills test in Allegheny County.

“It was pretty grueling,” she said. “Those hoses are heavy and you’re carrying a lot of heavy equipment. There is no forgiveness if you’re a woman, nor would I expect there to be. If I was not as physically fit as I am, I never would have gotten through it.”

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