Who do you think of when you think of a firefighter? Do you think of someone you know who is a firefighter? Do you think of a man? Is that man a handsome gentleman who is 6’4”, with muscles big enough to pop the buttons off his shirt, with ashes perfectly placed on his face? If you said yes to that, you watch too much Station 19 on television. Seriously though, in Hollywood, how many times have you seen a woman jump off of the fire truck in full structural PPE? How many ladies have you seen on your LOCAL fire department (if any)? I am here to represent the other half of the fire service, the women.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would become a firefighter. I grew up with a firefighter in the house, my dad, and always thought of him as manly, strong, fearless, and brave. As a kid, he would come to our school and teach us about the dangers of fire. He had a demonstration doll house that would electrocute Barbie while she was blow drying her hair in the bathtub, a stove that would actually smoke, and a rubber chicken he would pull out of his pant pockets when he was showing off what firemen carry in the structural PPE. He was funny, and he was COOL. And quite frankly, he made me pretty popular in elementary school. Everyone wanted to sit next to Firefighter Jerry and his daughter Natalie at the lunch table, hear his stories, and ask him questions like, “do you know what happens when you flush your toilet 20 times?”. Due to his awesomeness, I have always looked up to my dad. He is comical, confident, likeable, and an excellent leader. He and my mother instilled strong leadership skills in my sister and I. I knew this from a very young age which is why I even had once considered joining Team Cool when I was younger. But then, one evening, a childhood friend’s father ruined that vision for me.
When I was 11 years old, I remember sitting at my friend’s dinner table, awkwardly conversing with adults, when I was asked, “Natalie, what do you want to be when you grow up?”. I confidently replied while scarfing down Kraft Mac and Cheese, “A Firefighter”, when suddenly, her dad busted out laughing. “Women aren’t meant to be firefighters! That’s a man’s job. Just because your dad does it, doesn’t mean you should!”, as he continued to tell me why women would be incapable of the job. I thought about this for the rest of my playdate. ‘How come my parents would tell me I could do anything if it wasn’t true? Am I really not as strong as a man? Do men have better emotional stability?' For a split second, I believed this man’s small mind. I guess I had never known a female firefighter. Maybe, women are not cut out to be firemen.
These negative thoughts were quickly taken out of my head when I met my very first female firefighter. She worked alongside my father and I can truly say that she was badass. I saw the male firefighters going up to her for answers, asking her opinion, seeing her as equal. That’s when I knew to re-spark that small fire inside me again.
As I grew older, I saw how powerful I truly could be. I gained confidence through my involvement in seven different clubs in high school, I was voted by my peers as Dance Team Captain for two seasons, and was awarded the school’s highest scholarship for leadership. I went off to college in Wisconsin, became the college dance team captain, moved away to Florida for an internship at Disney World. . . I was unstoppable. And, like many of our stories, that’s when COVID hit. I was forced to move back to Minnesota, away from my new friends, without the ability to connect with my old friends. All of my job applications were at a stand-still, I graduated college virtually, and I felt stuck in a rut. Then, in a blink of an eye, my dream job fell into my hands.
I was hired as a Marketing Coordinator and Recruitment Officer for Minnesota Fire Hire. Since I truly did not know much about the fire service, I asked myself, "How will I recruit and market towards firefighters if I don’t know a single thing about it?”. This question led me to the Anoka Fire Training Academy where I went through their rigorous courses to become Firefighter I, Firefighter II, and HAZMAT certified. The academy not only made me a better recruiter; but it is where I fell in love with firefighting… and I cannot wait to share with you what each day was like in the academy.
Starting January, I will be blogging about my personal experience in becoming a firefighter. I will be honest with my thoughts, open about my emotions, and here for any questions. Thanks for reading!
You’re probably wondering, who are you? My name is Natalie, and I am a 24-year-old, Gen Z, Firefighter/Disney-Nerd! I am the Marketing Coordinator and Recruitment Officer for MN Fire Hire; If you reached out to MN Fire Hire, you probably spoke with me (hi!).