Life in a man’s world: Female firefighters are overcoming the odds
Oct 18, 2011 | 1622 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By Amanda Stegall

amanda.stegall@daily-tribune.com

Women have traditionally been known to fill certain roles in the occupational world such as that of teacher, nurse and librarian. So, when the first woman applied for a position with the fire department, Bartow citizens began on a journey to change their perspective of jobs women are capable of filling. That journey is not over.

“You’re walking into a male-dominated field,” Sgt. Lisa Hahn, one of the four women serving with the Bartow County Fire Department, said. “So with that itself, you have to prove yourself. It’s not that they make it a hardship, but you have to pull your own weight so they don’t feel like they should take care of you and do their job.”

“I’ve had so many people — when I go out to a call — say, ‘You’re a girl!’” firefighter Amy Godwin said. “And I have to stop and say, ‘Yes, sir, I am.’”

As a woman in a typically male world, each lady brings a special presence to emergency calls.

“I think that the children and women tend to bond with me easier,” Godwin said. “There’s like an unspoken trust that they come to me a little easier than some of these big guys in uniforms.”

Women tend to represent the “weaker sex” as fragile creatures. That ideology is one of the obstacles these women have had to overcome in their years in service.

“Being the first woman in the department in 1989 was a feat in itself to overcome,” Capt. Colleen Cochran said. “I had to prove to them that I could do my job just as good as they could and that I was not a weak link.”

To prove herself, Cochran said it took “sheer determination.”

“I knew that that’s what I wanted to do as a career and … I’m the first female officer,” Cochran said.

Cochran and Godwin also are the only female EMTs for BCFD, and Godwin is the only female diver for the Emergency Management Agency Dive Team.

BCFD Chief Craig Millsap said that having the women in the department has brought about policy changes in the sense that before their employment there was no policy on maternity leave for firefighters.

Sgt. Jessie Green was the first to bring about that change.

“I worked here while I was pregnant on the fire truck with [my son] for 20 weeks,” Green said. “I guess being a new mommy is the biggest thing I’ve overcome working here. My first night coming back to work, I was at Station 1 and it wasn’t very late but I was already knocked out. I got up looking for [my son], freaking out that I couldn’t find him because I heard him crying, but it wasn’t him — it was a fire call.”

Another obstacle Green noted she has been forced to handle is related to the public.

“I’m a sergeant,” Green said. “The public doesn’t ever think I’m in charge. On a scene, they always go to the guy.”

Hahn agrees with Green.

“Sometimes you’ll run a call and [the public] is like, ‘Is this all that’s coming?’” Hahn said.

Although there are differences in the workforce, each woman noted that their male counterparts have not treated them differently.

“It’s like having a bunch of big brothers,” Godwin said.

Echoing Godwin’s thought, Green said, “Guys treat me pretty much the same as they treat everybody else or each other.”

Hahn, who grew up with three brothers, agrees, saying, “They have to prove themselves, so why shouldn’t I?”

Tracy McFadden, the sole female firefighter for the Cartersville Fire Department, said she hasn’t encountered many difficulties.

“I think the guys have had to overcome more than I did,” McFadden said. “Because for them, they haven’t had a woman firefighter in the city for quite some time. So they had to adjust just as much as I did.”

Although McFadden has adjusted well into the area after moving to the U.S. from Australia permanently nine years ago and marrying a Cartersville Police officer, she noted there have been challenges along the way in a physical sense.

“Probably the hardest part of it is the physical side of it just because I’m a female,” McFadden said. “I don’t have the strength the guys do.”

“Whether they know it or not, the general opinion of [the women here] is, ‘Wow!’” Millsap said. “I wish I had a dozen like them. They don’t have to prove anything.”