ELK RIVER, Minn. (WCCO) — Women who have wondered what it takes to be a firefighter will have a hands-on opportunity this weekend.

The Women’s Fire Service Expo will be held in Elk River Saturday, June 23. Participants will suit up, try out equipment and even put out a fire.

In roughly a minute, firefighter Kim Cox gets geared up from head to toe. She is one of 12 women who serve the Eden Prairie Fire Department, but that number is just 10 percent of the force.

“Women are 50 percent of the population, so we would like to see more women in the fire service,” said Becki White, Assistant Chief of Training and Prevention for EPFD.

None of the lockers are occupied by women at the Elk River Fire Department, and Acting Chief Aaron Surratt is determined to change that.

“[Having women] just brings more resources to the table, brings a better understanding, a different perspective to the job,” Surratt said. “And I think it makes us more well-rounded to better serve the public.”

(credit: CBS)

Both departments will help lead a Women’s Fire Service Expo in Elk River this weekend, which is primarily organized by the North Star Women’s Firefighter Association. Cox is the president of the NSWFA. After suiting up, participants will put out a vehicle fire, use the “jaws of life” to cut open another vehicle, cut through doors, do an agility course and get trained on medical equipment.

“A lot of women haven’t grown up wanting to be firefighters, so there’s a lot of self-doubt on, ‘Do I really have what it takes to be a firefighter? Do I have the strength? Do I have the stamina?’ And there’s not opportunities for people to try those things out,” White said.

The expo can help overcome those concerns, all while learning from other women.

“Because how I lift a ladder is a lot different than some of my male colleagues, and so we have the opportunity to share those techniques,” she said.

Past expos have been held in Edina, but this weekend’s is specifically outside of the metro at the Elk River Public Works Department.

“We’re looking to bring it more to rural America,” Surratt said.

And in turn, bring women into their departments.

“Hopefully it makes them succeed as they pursue those firefighter careers,” he said.

The expo is free of charge and runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. There are limited spots, so participants must register for the event by Wednesday evening.

Jeff Wagner