Many years after all those false alarms, I was challenged to apply to the local fire department to become a firefighter. Because the South (I lived in a small, rural Gulf Coast county) is known for its "good ole boy" mentality, I was told that I would never be accepted if I applied. Telling me that was a definite dare and something I just couldn't walk away from! Whether it was something I really wanted to do or not, the challenge sealed the deal and made me go for it with a vengeance.

I put great thought in filling out the application. Everything was worded just so. The person who put me up to applying was surprised when I was contacted to go before the interviewing committee. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck because at this point I had to decide whether or not I really wanted to go for it and if I did go for it and get accepted, that meant I would be a firefighter.

When the day of my interview came, I decided just to be myself and answer the questions as truthfully as I could. I knew I'd be looked over thoroughly and questioned heavily by each of the five people on the committee, but I felt prepared for whatever I was facing. Much to everyone's surprise, I was accepted as the first woman firefighter in that county. Part of me was proud and part of me was scared. That meant I’d have to step up to the plate and do a job better than my male counterparts because all eyes would be on me.

As soon as I had been accepted, I went from being "Karen" to being "that woman" overnight. The wives and girlfriends of the male firefighters would always ask, "did "that woman" go out on the fire last night?" Although this disturbed me because I wondered what they though I was doing while I was out on a fire, I knew that in time it would pass when they saw I wasn't chasing after their husbands and boyfriends. I even got amused as I tried to envision doing some dirty little sexual act while engaged in the act of putting out a fire! I guess that was one way to kill two birds with one stone! I often invited the other ladies to join, but no one took me up on my offer. It took about a year for me to regain my name, but when I did, it came with a certain respect that I had never had before.

I was treated as an equal by the other members and always treated with respect (except for that one time and that's another story for another time). On my first fire, the path was paved for the direction in which I would be treated. After putting out the fire, like all the other firefighters, I started peeling off my gear. Carrying 50 lbs. of gear gets extremely hot quickly. I flipped my helmet off my head and my long hair came tumbling down over my shoulders. When I did that, the deputy who was also on the site of the fire, eased his way over to the assistant fire chief. He looked puzzled and said, "Did you know you have a woman out here?" The asst. chief smiled and said, "no we have a lady out here!" Everyone seemed amused by the thought that perhaps they had smuggled a woman out here to fight fires...or to do whatever!

As I drove home later that night, I thought of my father. If people have guardian angels, I believe he was with me each time I was called out to a fire. Somehow, I knew if he could see me now, he would have been proud of the transformation his daughter had undergone since her tumultuous childhood. Who would have thought that scrawny, long-legged girl who ran from that false alarm years before would grow up to be a firefighter! It just goes to prove how strange life can be at times.

Gratitude statement: I'm thankful somewhere along the way, I learned to roll with the punches.

All gibberish within ©2004-2010 Mildred Ratched Memoirs.

1 comment:

  1. And I bet there are/will be many others grateful for what you do. All women deserve hoses!