Kayla Corbin

Mount Vernon firefighter Kayla Corbin stands in front of a fire truck during her third shift with the department on July 19, 2021.

MOUNT VERNON -- Mount Vernon firefighter and paramedic Kayla Corbin thought she would become a flight medic for the United States Coast Guard in high school.

Then, she thought she wanted to become a dentist.

Corbin attended dental school for several years and spent months in Brazil in 2017 working dental clinics on a river boat. When she returned, she decided to forge a different path — one that incorporated her interest in healthcare and provided for her local community. 

Corbin began her role as a dual firefighter and paramedic for the Mount Vernon Fire Department on July 13. She grew up in nearby Sunbury and moved to Mount Vernon approximately two years ago.

Corbin is the first female firefighter in the department’s history, fire chief Chad Christopher said. 

“When I applied, I had no idea that I would be the first,” Corbin said, noting she was shocked the department had not previously employed any female firefighters.  

The last known woman in the department was Karol Eckle, who served as a paramedic from the 1980s to early 2000s before retiring, Christopher said. 

MVFD provides both fire and emergency medical services including response, prevention and education. Most of the department's firefighters are also trained paramedics, Christopher said. 

Candidates must get a 70% or better on a written civil service exam and pass a physical agility test to become an MVFD firefighter, Christopher said. 

“We’ve had females take our test before,” Christopher said. “They would pass the written but it had always been a challenge to pass our physical agility requirements.

"So with Kayla, not only was she number one on our civil service test but she was dual certified (in fire and emergency medical response), and of course the physical agility, she passed that.”

The physical agility test involves completing a circuit of tasks in under 4 minutes and 30 seconds: running up flights of stairs wearing and carrying gear, completing chest compressions, dragging a dummy, completing a keiser sled (a simulated forcible entry-chopping device), and more. 

“You’ve got to have some strength but you also have to have cardiovascular endurance, some stamina,” Christopher said.

Corbin and Christopher agreed the keiser sled is generally the most difficult for candidates to complete. Candidates must swing a sledge hammer overhead to hit and move a heavy-weight sled. 

“(The sled) only moves about an inch or half an inch when you hit it, and it has to move almost 4 or 5 feet,” Corbin said. 

keiser sled

The keiser sled, a simulated forcible entry-chopping device, in the Mount Vernon Fire Department. 

MVFD candidates used to have to complete physical agility tests outside the county, but MVFD began conducting the tests at the Knox Technical Center in May, when Corbin took her test, Christopher said. 

The top 10 candidates who pass both the written and physical tests are then interviewed by the fire chief before undergoing a final panel interview with the fire chief, captain and additional officers. Throughout Christopher’s time as fire chief, he said he has never had a female candidate in a top 10 list. 

“Kayla’s the first, but there will be many more to come," Christopher said.

Corbin also works as a part-time firefighter with Madison Township Fire Department. 

“I’m very excited to be the first (in Mount Vernon),” Corbin said, “and I want to set that level and set that tone for the next females that come in here.”

Mount Vernon mayor Matt Starr said he was excited to have Corbin join the city’s fire team.

“As far as I’m concerned, it really didn't have much to do with her being a female,” Starr said. “She was a top candidate, which is most important — that (candidates) offer the skill set that we’re after.”

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.