By Blaize, FD Hacks
In the 1980’s, my mom dreamed of becoming a firefighter for the City of Hartford, Connecticut. She passed the required tests, but due to life changes at the time, was not able to complete the final step and get on the job. About twenty five years later, that passion to be a firefighter still burned brightly. Three months after I joined my volunteer fire department, my mom joined too at the age of 45. While father-son firefighting duos are pretty common in fire departments, less common are mother-son teams, and I couldn’t have been more proud to serve alongside her. We completed Firefighter I together and had a solid decade protecting our community as part of a great fire department. To this day, I am still inspired by having had the opportunity to witness my mother not only defy stereotypes, but do crazy firefighter shit while 30 years older than me. I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors. I’ve previously written about the most important lessons my grandfather passed on to me about the fire service. Now, here are the five most important lessons with my mother taught me about the fire service:
1. Women are Badasses
I’ve heard plenty of comments, especially from old-timers, about women having no role in firefighting. To them I say, watch your 48-year old mother carry a 200 pound guy out of a fourth-story window on a ladder and tell me that again. That’s enough said on that.
2. Yes, the Fire Service Has a Problem…
Only 4% of firefighters in the United States are female. Departments or platoons of all men will often say that there is no problem with the fire service. They usually see it as a problem with women or don’t notice anything at all. In my experience, guys that fight fires alongside women have their eyes opened to problems pretty quickly. And when that female colleague is a relative, whether it be your mother, daughter, or sister, you see and hear things that make your blood BOIL. For example, on the scene of a barn fire, a bunch of firefighters, probationary members, and multiple junior firefighters (our teenage program) were transitioning from fire suppression to overhaul. A firefighter from a mutual aid department turns to my mom, the only female working the scene, and says, “honey, can you get us some water.” Um, excuse me? Didn’t that stuff happen like fifty years ago? I may not have water but I do have a pike pole you could shove up your...fill in the blank. However, these idiots are in the minority of our ranks. Like the pareto principle says, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In my experience, 80% of the discriminatory (or harassing) activity comes from a handful of the guys. It’s on all of us, especially us dudes, to stand up to that problematic 20% when we hear or see crap like the firefighter I mentioned above. Often, we already know who the problems are. Hopefully, if my daughter decides to become a firefighter in the future, she’ll just be one of the team thanks to trailblazers like my mom and the many women that make up today’s 4%.
3). Make Firefighting A Family Tradition
Firefighting can pull many families apart, but when firefighting becomes a family tradition, you share a unique experience that few will understand. It’s acceptable and exciting to discuss fire suppression tactics and sharing war stories over family holidays dinner. It also makes it easier when you have folks close to you who can understand challenges and allow you to vent. It’s not for everyone, but sharing this experience with both my grandfather and mother has instilled in us the special bond usually reserved for our brothers and sisters in our fire families. I hope I can inspire my kids to choose to carry on our firefighting family tradition.
4). You Can Make Dreams a Reality
How can you do this? The answer is simple: hard work. My mom always dreamed of being a firefighter. At 45, through hard work, determination, and a good deal of gumption, she made her dream a reality. It wasn’t easy, but she stuck to it and within three years, earned her EMT, Firefighter I, and hazmat ops certifications. That’s one way to teach your kids about the meaning of hard work.
5). Train Your Ass Off
In her 40’s, my mom successfully completed her EMT, Firefighter I, and FD driving training program. All these courses take intense physical and mental endurance. How’d she accomplish it? Non-stop training. Unlike her male counterparts, she had the added pressure that her failures would be attributed to her gender, rather than a mistake like it would be for the guys. To compensate for this imposing insecurity, she would train, train, and TRAIN until she was not only capable, but confident. This is the level of training we should all aim for. The goal is not just being able to do a task, but understanding why you’re doing it. That’s how you build confidence and become a better firefighter.
Have an inspiring or educational FD Story of your own? Did you have a mentor that passed on valuable fire service lessons or skills to you? If so, please share your story with us!
Disclaimer: This is for informational purposes. Always follow department policies and procedures.