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Women overcome challenges, graduate from fire academy

A program where people learn to fight fires opened its doors, for the first time ever, to those with disabilities.

For the last 20 years, the Citizen's Fire Academy in Lexington has been giving folks an inside look at a firefighter's life. This year, two students with disabilities applied to be part of the program.

At the Citizen's Fire Academy, every student learns, watches, and works. The working part, for some, seems impossible.

"You really do kinda have to stand up to adjust it and I can't do that," explains dispatcher Elizabeth VanHook, one of the first disabled students to sign up for the academy. She was born with spina bifida, and she's one of two in the class using the help of wheels to move.

"I have multiple neuromuscular problems," says Cindy Bidwell-Glaze, "I can think of no disability that would preclude your being in one of these classes."

"Because disable doesn't mean unable," retorts VanHook, "as long as I can wheel it, that's all I care about."

During one Monday night class, firefighters were setting up the standard smoke simulation to accommodate VanHook and Bidwell-Glaze.

"It was real dark, but the infrared imager that they had was really cool to see the heat coming off of the smoke machine itself and you really cannot see anything in there and you're by the wall just touching," says VanHook.

"I would fail miserably as a firefighter because I can't touch things and I can't get down on my knees, but it's wonderful how they do it," adds Bidwell-Glaze.

The two women graduated from the academy with their class on May 7th.


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