Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Under the airmask: a firefighter is a firefighter

I was a little nervous about joining the fire service because it is a predominantly male field. I had wondered if the guys would be accepting of me as a young female.

When I applied to my local fire company I wanted to know if other female firefighters served there. While it wasn’t the most important question I wanted to ask, it meant something to me. Before I had a chance to ask, the membership director told me the good news: one active member and one away at college. Two more females joined after me. I went through fire school with one of them, and we both earned our Firefighter I national certification.

In addition, two other female firefighters were in our class. On the first day in fire school, one of the instructors lectured about the history of the fire service and its diversity of members. Instructor Andrew Hunger said that it’s not about what you look like, what your gender is or who you pray to, it’s about performing the job. As a female Christian firefighter, I greatly appreciated that he felt like that. It was encouraging to hear someone prominent say that to my class of 40 students.

“Everyone is the same under their airmask,” Hunger said.

Instructor Joseph Lombardo Jr. agreed and said that male or female, career or volunteer, a firefighter is a firefighter.
Now working at the training center to assist the instructors with skill stations, I like seeing other female firefighters go through fire school because we are a minority in the fire service.

During training exercises, whether it was at fire school, with my fire company or just on my own, I had a personal desire to perform at a high standard. The only person I had to outperform was myself. In the fire service, both physical strength and cardiovascular endurance are important to perform the essential job functions. 

Ginger Rae Dunbar, pictured, enjoys working out at the gym for her overall health and because fitness is an important aspect in firefighting. 
 When it comes to fitness, you cannot compare yourself to others; you should only compare yourself to where you started out and where you are now to stay motivated to reach your goals. Because of my passion for firefighting, and to do it well, I felt like I had to hold myself to a high standard as a female firefighter. I have been fortunate that the fire school instructors and the members at my fire company have the right mindset to only see me as a firefighter. The pronouns don’t matter to them. 

There are people, even in the fire service, who do not think that women belong. While I thankfully have not had a negative interaction because of my gender, I am motivated to work hard and stay on par with what is physically required of firefighters.

Sometimes your gender matters to the public, but in a positive way. It seems that some people, especially other women, are pleasantly surprised to see a female firefighter. It’s hard work, and even mundane tasks require physical strength.

While I was in fire school and on the fire ground, I found how heavy the equipment is. My body weight likely doubles when I put on my protective gear, SCBA and carry equipment. Between that and breaking the barriers to do a job that is typically performed by men, I think that’s why the public appreciates seeing women on the job.

At a few calls, I had residents commend me for being among the other firefighters. It was not about me personally, but it is about being a female firefighter.

“You go girl!” One resident said to me.

That’s one of the greatest feelings. We appreciate having that support.

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