What led you to pursue this career?
Shelby: As cliché as it sounds, my love for helping people and the adrenaline rushes. A 9 – 5 job never interested me. Every day at the fire house is different, and you never know what you are going to be doing until the tones drop and you find yourself running half a million-dollar apparatus.
As a woman did you find any specific challenges in choosing a career where women are underrepresented?
Shelby: The entry requirements are the same for all firefighters, regardless of their gender. As a female firefighter, though, you may need to exercise more and focus on building up your upper strength as the male population tends to strive more in the physical fitness than the female population.
For the most part, everyone has been welcoming. No matter where you go, you are going to find some individuals that do not support females being in the fire service. With my experience, more fire departments are changing their outlook on females and promoting females into the chain of command these days. With this, you will still have some bitter firefighters tell you that you cannot do something because of your gender. Take the anger and strive every day to be better. One of those days, those bitter firefighters will look at you and say, “you’re not bad”. In the fire service, those three words are gold. It means you have gained their respect and they trust you with their life. It takes a lot to get there, but when you do, it is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears.
What piece of advice would you offer to a young woman interested in pursuing a career in your trade?
Shelby: Do it. Join a department. Get involved. You can’t do this job alone. Find mentors in your department and learn from them. Do not be afraid to put yourself out there but know your boundaries. Show your leadership. Help with chores. Cook chow with your company. Sit around the chow table and not in your room. You can take as many classes and attend as many trainings that are offered, but you will not learn as much as when you sit around the chow table and talk to the firefighters that have been doing this career longer than before you were born. While they drink their coffee thick as motor oil, take every piece of information in. Whatever they are telling you, it is probably because it is important. I learned a lot about the fire service from these “table talks” as what they are called within the department. Aside from running calls, the kitchen table is one of the reasons I joined the fire service – to be part of the brotherhood/sisterhood, the war stories, and the friendly teasing of those within your company. Regardless of your gender, you’re the next generation and you want to make those retiring feel like they are leaving the future of the fire service in good hands