“Today we are here for a swearing-in ceremony for firefighters, one of the world’s most honored but dangerous occupations.”
The air bristled with an unusually brisk chill for a late-spring day in April, but as I stood in front of the crowd of my department’s family and friends, I felt nothing but a scorching-hot iron of disapproval branding me from all directions. My face fanned with burning red, probably in sync with the US flag hanging on the pole behind where we stood. I tried to keep my eyes to myself, hesitant and unwilling to meet the disapproving gazes of my soon-to-be colleagues. They didn’t want me there; I knew that. From the beginning until this very moment, the department, consisting solely of men, had made it clear to me that—as a woman—I would somehow be unable to do the job I was hired to do.
“When there is an emergency in the community; firefighters are one of the first on scene,” Chief Preston Davis continued. “Firefighters are there at devastating ravages of fire, motor vehicle accidents, tornadoes, hazardous material incidents, rescue operations, explosions, medical emergencies, and many other critical events.”
I shifted from one leg to the other, hands grasped firmly behind my back, palms and neck sweating with anticipation and nerves. In the crowd, a few onlookers seemed to be glaring at me instead of paying any attention to their own recruits. I recognized some of the men from my parent’s church; disapproving Christian conservatives who didn’t want me there any more than my new department did. With small towns came small minds, and I’d endured the backlash for months, always pushing through, tuning the haters out until I wasn’t sure I could anymore. For months, I’d balanced on the edge of giving up and forcing my way in.
The men on my crew, some of them, had tried to intimidate me away, frighten me out of showing up today. But I’d come. Months of nerve-wracking interviews, physical fitness routines and skills tests had finally gotten me here; the place I’d always wanted to be.