Firefighter/EMT - Purdue University Fire Department
What do you do at Purdue?
I began working at the Purdue University Fire Department in December 1981. I got into the fire service because of my interest in community service. I first started my career as a volunteer at Wabash Fire Department in 1978.
My position at Purdue is firefighter/EMT. We are all required to be emergency medical technicians or paramedics. We respond to all fire and emergency incidents on campus, which include chemical explosions, elevator rescues, gas odors and all accidents. We are also trained to assist in hazardous materials incidents, aircraft crash rescue and rope rescue. We make more than 2,600 runs a year. Purdue is unique among universities in that its fire department handles medical emergencies, airport and chemical incidents, and confined space extrications. The department is made up of three shifts with nine firefighters per shift, and an assistant fire chief and captain on each shift. There is also Chief Kevin Ply and three fire safety inspectors for a total of 31 members. Of those, there are a total of four women on the department -- Dana, Dawn, Ephina and myself.
As the first woman hired as a firefighter at Purdue, I faced some challenges early on. At times, I felt very alone and isolated. I had no one to go to who had been through a similar experience, and the men in the department didn't know how to treat me. From the first day I walked into this station, I only wanted to be treated fairly. Men and women have different qualities and bring different things to the table. I think it's been a learning experience for everyone. Now we have fun and respect each other, and I enjoy working with the guys. We currently have three other women in the department, and I think my presence has paved the way for women.
Which woman has inspired you most? Why?
Lots of women have inspired me. I received lots of support from a group of women firefighters who started Women in the Fire Service, a national organization that supports women firefighters by providing training and networking. I attended the first national conference in 1985. During that first convention, it was very moving to walk into a room of 150 women who did the same thing as you and were having the same issues. Before this I had not talked with another woman career firefighter. I always called these conferences my battery recharge.
Brenda Berkman of the New York City Fire Department is one woman who really changed the face of women in the fire service. Her story has been inspiring to me.
What are your goals and experiences with mentoring or encouraging others?
We have many request for tours of the fire station from both college mentors and local day care groups. When young children or school groups come for tours of the station, I make it my responsibility to talk to them to show them that women can be firefighters as well as men. I consider myself a role model for women in nontraditional jobs.