It requires a rare mental and physical grit to offer aid in emergency situations. The fire service is an integral part of our townships’ functionality because not only do our firefighters handle the structure fires that crop up from time to time, they are also trained emergency medical technicians and medics, able to respond in a wide variety of emergency situations.
Firefighting is a profession in which women are often underrepresented, but West Chester and Liberty both have multiple female firefighters. They work hard alongside their male counterparts every week to care for people at their most desperate moments, meeting the same standards and taking the same trainings as their male co-workers.
These women, and all female firefighters of the past, are pioneers, normalizing work in the fire service for all people. Here are just a few insights into the complexity and passion behind their work.
For many of our female firefighters, the fire service wasn’t their first career. Some have come from nursing, office jobs, and other labor - but then made the move when they felt that something was missing in their careers. Amanda Marimon, a firefighter in Liberty Township’s service, transitioned from an insurance-field job.
“It was a big thing for me: going from a sit-down job, 9-5, set hours, to doing more physical things: going into homes with heavy equipment or extricating a person out of a car,” says Amanda. “I never thought that was stuff I’d be doing, but it was a big eye-opener to see what we can do for people. It has been such a great experience.”
Alysha Lawson, a firefighter with West Chester Township, left behind work in a pharmacy to pursue her EMT training and Fire Academy.
“I thought about being a medic when I was about 22, but was convinced not to do it because of the disturbing and heartbreaking things I could see,” says Alysha. “Later, I thought, it was only a 9-month program, so if I went through it and didn’t like it, I could figure something else out. But it turned out that I loved it.”
Many firefighters balance continuing education, their fire service job, family obligations, and even other work - showing their commitment even though the work is difficult.
Brooke Rosenberger of the Liberty Township service points out that, given the wide scope of what firefighters can do, the job is far from routine.
“It’s very unpredictable; you never really know what’s going to happen,” she says. “We train for just about everything. Sometimes you get curveballs thrown at you.”
Carmen Kuehn, who has had a nearly-30-year career with the West Chester Township service, has watched as things have changed for female firefighters in particular.
“Being in the fire service, when I started, there were 2% females, and there are only 4% now, so we’ve doubled it in 30 years, and it is challenging,” says Carmen. “I’ve learned just how strong I can be. I’ve learned how I can rely on myself, and I’ve learned that I can rely on the brothers that I work with; they are honestly there to stand by me and help me.”
Working with one’s co-workers on long shifts, often 24 hours long, is a challenge for firefighters of any gender; firefighters work as a team to make sure they are well-trained and their equipment is ready for anything the day can throw at them.
Amanda’s connection to the fire service emerges out of a recognition that everyone has days when they need help, while Brooke likes how much strength the fire service gives her.
“The helpfulness aspect is important to me,” Brooke says. “When they call us, they expect that we’ll solve their problems, and it’s rewarding to be a problem solver.”
Terrah Stuckey works in the Liberty Township service, and she sees firefighting as empowering her to have an impact.
“I think for me, it’s seeing that I can intervene and help,” says Terrah. “There’s so much we do that isn’t medical that helps people. They don’t know how to deal with an emergency under pressure, but we have the calm mindset to handle the situation. We can reassure the family members; that’s a really cool thing to be able to do.”
They also mention that being able to support their teams and be supported in return makes the work meaningful and positive for them.
The women share openly about their gains in physical strength and technique over their years in the service, their experiences of learning to trust and work with co-workers, and learning to maintain their calm in tough situations.
“One thing they hounded us about at the Academy was to listen to the Officers and anyone who has been doing this job longer,” says Alysha. “They have words of advice and greater wisdom that, if you are willing to listen, they are willing to pass on to you.”
The firefighters unanimously pointed out that entering fire service may feel daunting, but they have a reminder for everyone pursuing this career, especially young women.
“If this is what you want to do, don’t ever give up,” says Carmen. “Don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it, and keep your integrity, because the biggest thing is knowing who you are and what you want.”