Women in the Fire Service, Inc.
Bulletin Board/Guestbook Archives
November-December 1999
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Posted: 12/13/99 x x x Send your reply to: BatesHouse@aol.com and/or BBoard@wfsi.org


My name is Christina and I am 17 years old. I am a senior in high school and want to become a fire fighter when I am old enough. I know just about everything to do except college. I am not sure everything you must take in college to become a fire fighter. My mom didn't go to college, so I don't know how it works. I was wondering if anyone who is a woman fire fighter that went to college who reads this could help me out? I just need to know what would be the best way to go and everything. If you could PLEASE help me out, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you very much and I hope to hear from you soon!

Christina :)

  12/16/99 x x Reply from val@rma.edu

Hi, Christina;

My wife is a firefighter/paramedic, but since I have been a college professor for 25 years I thought I would respond to your bulletin board post.

How exciting that young women your age are now seeing this wonderful profession as a possibility for them. Not too long ago, women were laughed at and their firefighter applications were tossed in the trash.

What most non-college educated people do not realize is that college, besides teaching the student to think more clearly and precisely, can be a mind-blowing experience for anyone who approaches it from the proper angle. In college one learns all different things that one did not think possible. It raises one's horizons, allows a person to see the world in a completely different way, and, unlike in high school, you are learning from real experts, some of whom are the cutting edge of their disciplines. College lets you be a better citizen, better parent, better professional, better person.

Some universities such as the University of Maryland have majors in Fire Science, and some, like George Washington University, have good majors in emergency medicine. Also, you can go for a two-year (Associate's) degree or a four year (Bachelor's) degree, depending on your interest and abilities. Get all the firefighting/EMS certifications you can in the meantime.

Some practical advice:
1. Get good grades if you are still in high school. Practice for the SAT exam either with a book or take the Kaplan course.
2. Apply to a college: many can be contacted by phone or e-mail. They will send you a catalogue with information about the college and an application.
3. Major in a subject that interests you.
4. Work hard and get good grades in college, and watch the crowd you hang with -- they will be of no help to you if you get dismissed.
5. Apply to as many fire departments as possible.
6. Keep trying; don't ever give up.

William R. Luckey, Ph.D.; Chairman
Department of Political Science and Economics
Christendom College

 Posted: 12/8/99 x x x x Send your reply to: bboard3@wfsi.org

For nearly four years I have tried to live with the pain and suffering I caused one Thursday morning in April. But I don't want to do this any more. I just cannot muster the good fight any more.

Last year a firefighter was seriously injured when he became disoriented in a warehouse fire. He lost his way, ran out of clean air, and removed his mask. The good news is he was bravely rescued, but he suffered serious damage to his lungs. The young fellow who was in charge of the engine team that included the injured firefighter was quickly enveloped into the forgiving and loving arms of the brotherhood. His emotional suffering at the part he may have thought he played in the accident was a very real concern among many. I never heard the terms "blame," "fault," or "responsibility" connected with his name and the accident. And, of course they should not be.

In contrast, I heard nothing but those words attached to my name. I hear them to this day. They are like a mantra destroying me little by little. A subsequent investigation completely exonerated me. OSHA issued multiple citations to the fire department. However, since the citations were never posted, in violation of OSHA mandated regulations, the truth never came out about the accident. What did make the rounds of many firehouses throughout the area was the "confidential" draft copy of the
department's own investigation, which blamed me for everything. Perhaps I should just finally admit to the investigation's authors...yup, it was me...I was the gunman behind the grassy knoll too...you finally got me!

My professional career is over, my reputation as an able-bodied, hard-working, intelligent officer is finished. There is nothing I can do to regain the trust and good will of others, that trust that was so painfully stolen years ago. Now I just think of myself as "the most hated person in the fire department." Men and women I have known for more than a decade do not acknowledge my presence even when I am standing next to them. They know how they will be treated if they are seen speaking with me.

I have children now. They are the wonder and loves of my life. How will I ever explain to them how I am treated? I want them to grow up admiring this profession and the honorable manner in which most men and women serve. I don't want them to ever know that I was the object of unrelenting ridicule and humiliation. How can I protect them from this pain? I can't even protect myself.

How do I keep my head above water? I'm really tired.

  1/28/00 x x Reply from LDavis@piedmont.com
  Dear Tired,

Please find someone (a therapist) who you feel comfortable with. If they have an understanding of emergency work all the better. The tiredness you are feeling is depression. It's understandable.

I was one of the first women paramedics in my state. I was despised by all, or they wanted to sleep with me (what else could I be there for but to find a husband?). For years every day was a fight. I lifted patients that most men would have asked for backup to lift. I had to do everything as well or better than the men. I had a male superior take credit for a MCI I ran. It was national news for days, and after it was all finished, he went on a national speaking tour to talk about how "he" ran the incident. I could go on and on, but to get to the point, I became too tired, too
disenchanted to continue.

Thank God, I found a woman therapist I credit for saving my life and career. It is wonderful to be able to talk to someone who is non-judgemental and gives you support and encouragement. She also gave me the ability to look at things from a different perspective. I continued working as a paramedic and transfered to another station. It took a lot of work, but I'm now happier and more successful than I have ever been. My children are happier too.

I'm now a firefighter/paramedic and work with a wonderful group of men (I'm the only woman on our department).

Take each day as it comes, it will get better. Find someone to talk to. Make you your top priority, and your children a close second (they need you healthy). Every day you will get a little stronger.

My thoughts are with you. If you need someone to write to, you can write to me. There are people who understand and want to help.

Good luck,

Lori Davis
Piedmont Fire Department
  12/16/99 x x Reply from val@rma.edu

Dear Gunman Behind the Grassy Knoll,

What a distressing letter you posted. My heart goes out to you, as I truly understand what you are going through. I was once in the same position, being the "most hated person in the fire department," and let me say from experience, that you will come through this. Not only will you come through it, but you will come through it a better person. This is difficult to see now, but I truly believe the adversities of life only serve to strengthen us, if we let them. Life (God, Karma, whatever you want to
call it) has lessons to teach us if we are willing to learn from what has happened.

In my case, I grew up privileged, in an all-white upper- class neighborhood with well-off parents. I attended private schools and was happy, popular and well-liked. I married a college professor and have four wonderful children. Then I became a firefighter. I now know what it is like to walk into a room and feel that everyone
in the room thinks that you are inferior. It was not a pleasant thing.

Slowly I began to make the connection with other people who have had to deal with this all their lives. While I was never a hateful person, I was indifferent to the sufferings of others and now, for the first time, I became interested in the civil rights movement and began to learn about it. For the first time in my life, I realized how horrible racial prejudice and hatred were. For the first time in my life! I would never have learned this without the adversities I experienced. You mentioned in your e-mail about protecting your children from this pain. I thank God that I was able to pass on to my children the lessons I have learned from my experiences, lessons of compassion and sensitivity to the sufferings of others.

I now am a firefighter in another county and have been here for six years. I had an opportunity to start over and enjoy a good reputation in my new department. I am still using the lessons life has taught me and would not exchange the experience for the world. Some day you will probably feel the same way.

The lessons you will learn will be different from mine, but they will be worth passing on to your children, not hiding from them. You and your children will leave the world a better place for what you have suffered. Your children will carry this on.

I do not underestimate the pain you are going through now. I just want you to know that it will pass and you will be a better person for it. Please contact me if you would like to chat.


  12/21/99 x x x Reply from emmag@aol.com

Dear Tired,

I agree with Julie. My heart goes out to you. I also know what it feels like to be the most hated person in the firehouse. And I think what hurt the most were those men who knew me and had worked with me for almost 15 years. They didn't bother to find out the facts or to even ask my side of the story.

But, Julie, is right. This type of persecution does have an unusual way of "stretching" our awareness and teaching us things that maybe we can't learn any other way. I have to look back and see that there were times that I also easily fell into that group who became very judgmental and took sides in situations where (had I even consciously thought about it) I only knew a little information. Probably saying very hurtful things that I thought were only the "facts" and "observations" and the "truth". We sit around in the firehouse, gossiping and mulling over juicy stories, and (being true to our nature) become very outspoken about our narrow, uninformed views.

I have learned in a very raw, attention-grabbing and painful way, that there are always at least two sides to the story. I have learned to offer mercy, grace and forgiveness when given the opportunity because there are probably going to be lots of times that I also will need it. I have learned to try (haven't quite mastered this one yet) to keep my opinions to myself, especially if they are not encouraging, uplifting or positively constructive. I have learned to reach out to those who are being ostracized by the group. I can do that now because I am a stronger person, a person of character. And, all of these things I did not completely understand before my difficult experiences in the fire service.

These are the things that you should share with your children. Please don't defend those people who have acted in ways that are spineless and cruel. Teach your children to recognize people of character and to be strong, independent, kind-hearted and compassionate leaders among their peers.

I will continue to pray for you, dear sister. I believe that God knows you by name, He knows your heartache and He longs to comfort you. Without Him, my experiences would have been unbearable. But, with Him, I have been able to forgive, throw off all bitterness and to truly grow in spirit. I hope, pray and believe that you will do the same.

Please let me know how you are doing. You can contact me at emmag@aol.com.


12/30/99 x x x Reply from BerkFDNY@aol.com

I agree with much that Julie and Gayle said in their posts. Many women firefighters had mistrust and animosity when they were first hired. Others, like yourself, have encountered problems later in their careers. When your confidence is undermined, it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter when the problems occur.

You did a good thing by reaching out to WFS and your sister firefighters. You cannot go it alone. Other people will be there for you. One of the benefits of organizations such as WFS is that such support is provided.

  Posted: 11/18/99 x x x x Send your reply to: kwfire@aol.com and/or BBoard@wfsi.org
  Hello, my name is Kim. I am an Oklahoma City Firefighter of eight years. I
have been appointed to the OCFD Human Relations Committee, and our committee
is in the process of putting together a proposal to the local and administration on Conflict Resolution and Sensitivity Training for our department. Our committee is looking for content and a plan of implementation for the above training. I have been doing some research to see what other departments include in their training, but have been unable to find any specifics on Conflict Resolution. I am needing any information anyone can provide me on the Conflict Resolution issue.
  11/27/99 x x Reply from val@rma.edu

Hi Kim,

In Chesterfield, Virginia, we have gotten a successful peer mediation program in place. I wrote an article about peer mediation in one of the past WFS newsletters -- you could check the online index, since I'm not sure what year it was.

Also the same article that appeared in the newsletter is in the new Many Faces, One Purpose: A Manager's Handbook on Women in Firefighting, which you can order for free from FEMA (see the link on WFS home page).

If this is the kind of information you are looking for, I would be happy to give you more information on how to set up a team in your department. Peer mediation is a fantastic concept. It works. It is magic!

Julie Luckey

 Posted: 11/16/99 x x xSend your reply to: Newcol@prodigy.net and/or BBoard@wfsi.org
  I would like information on the promotional systems various fire departments have in place. I am hopeful that with documentation of more progressive departments' promotional systems in hand, our department may finally realize its own promotional system needs some attention. Thanks for your time and any help you can provide. My specific areas of interest include:

The written promotional exam:
·How many questions are on the exam?
·What type of questions are they? (i.e., true-false, multiple choice)
·Is there a time limit for taking the test? If so, how long is it?
·Is a study list given out prior to the written exam? (i.e., a list showing the material or reference book the test questions will come from.)
·Who decides what material will be placed on the study list, or on the written exam if there is no study list?
·Where does this material come from? (ie., departmental SOP's, textbooks, fire service reference works)
·How much material is on the list?
·Are the questions required to be relevant to the position the exam is for? If so, how is this assured?
·How much notice is given when a promotional exam is to be given?
·Is there a system in place to protest bad questions on the exam?

Other promotional processes:
·Does your department use assessment centers?
·If so, for which promoted ranks?
·Who administers the assessment center? Are people from outside the department used as raters? Does the department try to ensure diversity among the raters?
·Is an interview part of the promotional process? Are people from outside the department used as interviewers? Does the department try to ensure diversity among the interviewers?

Officer/candidate training:
·Does the department offer classes or training that all promotional candidates are required to pass (in advance) in order to be eligible for promotion?
·Does the department require college or other outside classes to be taken in order to be eligible for promotion?
·Does the department provide officer training (other than orientation to required forms and paperwork) for newly promoted officers?

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