My Spectacular Job: Female Firefighter

firefighter jobsI was an editorial assistant at a big legal paper. It was supposed to be a sweet job, a stepping stone to bigger things, but I didn't see the value of articles about promotions, new court appointments and meager scandals. I was bored to tears. I thought, "Is this all there is to working life?"

I made surreptitious phone calls to friends, and wore unprofessional outfits. I should have been fired. The gleam of my Stanford education was the only thing that saved me. I saw my future as a mundane flipbook where I sat behind a desk and moved only my typing fingers. It scared me.

Then, to everyone's surprise including my own, I took a job as a San Francisco firefighter.

Proving myself

I was the 15th female ever accepted into the SFFD. There were 1500 men. Honestly, it was like arriving in a foreign country, with a new language and new customs to learn. The men were nice -- but, let's face it, most of them didn't want women there. I didn't blame them; change is hard. But we had to overcome many unfounded stereotypes: that women were weaklings, that women were sissies, that women would run out of fires. It surprised me how hard it was to change a mind that had already made a decision about who you were. But not everyone was like that.

You can't see anything in a fire. It's soupy black, and hot. I loved fires. There was something about the adrenalin and the noise and the heat. I was too young and stupid to be really scared of the danger. After a few years I went to Rescue 2 because it was the busiest rig for fires in the city. I worked with brave people, and spent nine happy years there. Once I fell through a roof but my air pack stuck on the joists and I didn't go all the way through. Once I crawled into a fire where the floor seemed to be shifting; it turned out to be a hoarder's house and we were crawling through years of trash. Once I had a greater alarm for three shifts in a row. Once I had three greater alarms in one shift.

firefighter jobsOnce I was caught in a flashover. The explosion blew my whole crew down the hallway. We untangled ourselves, and there were a lot of curse words. It was the only time I hesitated going back in. We were all hesitating. But it was only a millisecond. Then we were jostling and pushing to get to the fire. Later we didn't say anything about being scared. We joked, and tended to our minor burns.

Effects of the job

We carried 100 pounds of equipment into fires; our air packs alone weighed almost 30 pounds. I had been a collegiate rower, and now worked out almost every day, but after a good fire I always felt as if I'd been hit by a truck. My crew specialized in rescues. We were trained to rescue in fires, in ocean surf, under trains or collapsed buildings, over cliffs, underwater in SCUBA gear. The San Francisco bay was full of silt. Only a foot down it was pitch dark -- like a fire, only much colder. You had to settle deep into the mud before you began. Then you swept your arms in wide arcs and moved very slowly. The crabs started walking all over you almost immediately. You could feel them through your wetsuit. The bodies were almost always gone, pulled out to sea by the currents.

Friends of mine with desk jobs would talk about their wheelings and dealings and I'd think "I helped to birth a baby today." We did a lot of medical calls. When someone died -- and they often did -- I always tried to be still for a moment and say a prayer. I didn't believe in God, but since being a firefighter I'd begun to believe in souls. I did corny things, like try to shut people's eyes after they died; but I soon realized that it's only in movies that eyelids stay closed, and stopped. I became both hardened and softened by the job. You don't see such powerful forces at work -- fires, deaths -- and remain unchanged.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

This is big largest pile of bs I have ever read. Maybe this is why men are hesitant to work with women like you. This is the most self promoting , exaggerated and jack-offish article I've ever read. I'll bet you are not even on the job any more. You probably retired out after 10 years. Give me a break if you we're as good as you claim you wouldn't be bragging about yourself. Have some humbleness and learn how to write.

December 03 2012 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One more man that is unemployed that can't support a family. Now thats progress. Maybe he can move in with the woman firefighter and take care of the kids while she works and brings home the bacon. P. S. he looks good in an apron

February 07 2011 at 10:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, I for one think that there are some women who can do a better job than some men. But the highest calling for a woman is "wife and mother." And I am glad that as a kid growing up, my mother was at home and not out trying to compete with men (although I am sure she could have done very well.)

February 04 2011 at 3:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Give me a break lady- just fight fires and shut up-this come from a 30 year PO

February 04 2011 at 2:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ray's comment

Thank you. At least you called me a lady.

February 06 2011 at 10:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

City Firefighters stop trying to defend your "do nothing: jobs with all your false claims. We all know you have more paid down time than a Maytag Repairman. In a 24 hour shift you are paid for 8 hours of sleep, 2 hours of eating, and 10 hours of watching TV, 3 hours of texing and yacking on your cell phone and ONE HOUR OF WORK! No Fire NO WORK!

February 04 2011 at 2:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Grapost's comment

What makes you think we get eight hours of sleep. I've worked 24-hour shifts with no I get overtime...NO!!!!. That comes with the territory.

We choose what we do because we love it. I will no longer acknowledge vendelavee for HIS arrogance.

February 04 2011 at 8:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You are sooooo full of CRAP. You do not have a CLUE what you are talking about. You would be crying like a little GIRL if you had to work a shift at Sta.55 on Franklin road in Marietta Ga.

February 08 2011 at 11:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well done, a firefighters are truely the nations first line hero's. They walk into heat,smoke and flames to assist whoever,whenever and wherever. We need to honor their sacrifice they more than some lazy,greedy CEO or Wall Street Bookie need copious bonuses.

Disagree with me after either doing the job or have been the victim of a major inferno,devastating auto accident, serious injury, heart attack,emergency child birth, stabbed,shot or just fallen hard.

I thank every firefighter and paramedic for being there in case/when they are needed ( which is far more often than thought commonly).


February 04 2011 at 1:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

so what. a women on the fire dept .big deal. whats next a women in army. wow thats news

February 04 2011 at 12:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i work for an on call paid department and we have several women who are cert. ff/emts i would trust them with my life any day of the week we train together every week as a department.

February 04 2011 at 12:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


Keep in mind that the "10%" of the time you give firefighters credit for "working" often occurs during the time that you are eating, in bed asleep, or comfortable in your house when the temperature is either 98 degrees or 15 below outside where the fire is. I guess when your house catches on fire, you'd better hope like hell it happens between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM on a nice Spring day and not at dinner time on Christmas Eve.

Plus, like soldiers, firefighters spend a LOT of time maintaining their equipment to make sure it's going to work like it's supposed to during that 10% of the time that they're fighting a fire. So, when your house catches on fire, I guess you'd better also hope that the fire department had enough time left over after sweeping the streets or whatever you think they should be doing to make sure the pump truck actually starts and runs, the ladder on the ladder truck will extend to reach your window, and the hoses are able to handle the water pressure without bursting. . .

Sometimes pausing to think is an excellent way to spend time. But, I would guess that you just have some personal beef with a firefighter and won't be persuaded by facts or reason.

February 04 2011 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anne Harrington

I really, really love my desk job and that is the God's honest truth.
And for me it is God's truth.

February 04 2011 at 12:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Search Articles

Picks From the Web