LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Four Lexington women are part of a small but strong sorority of female firefighters across the country proving when it comes to this career, it’s all about the attitude.
This week LEX 18 sat down with the diverse group of women who each have different backgrounds and levels of experience.
“I think the way I was raised, I never looked at anything and thought a man could do something I couldn’t,” said Chelsie Brown, a firefighter who joined the department about five years ago.
“When you see a woman, you think, ‘Oh, she’s doing that? I can do that!’” said Tamera Taylor, one of the Lexington Fire Department’s newest recruits who also served in the National Guard. “I remember when I was first given the idea of being a firefighter, the first words out of my mouth were, ‘Are women really in the fire service?’”
Turns out they are, and she’s now one of them. Taylor and Brown are the youngest in this group. We also met Megan Klarer, who quit her teaching job to become a firefighter and ended up convincing her brother to join, too. And Maria Roberts is the most senior woman in the department who credits her career choice with the women who came before her.
“It never occurred to me I couldn't, because I had some great role models,” Roberts said. “Yeah, they faced some pushback, but it was the early 80s.”
Despite a nationwide push for more diversity in hiring, the National Fire Protection Association says less than five percent of career firefighters in the United States are women. Officials admit they’re working to improve those numbers locally with various recruitment efforts, but Roberts say they’ve already come a long way.
“When I came on the job, it was 2-2.5%,” she said. “So if we've doubled the amount in my career, that's not bad. I mean, it's not great. I'd love to see more. But it's progress.”
In the last five years in Lexington, the number of female firefighters both in the academy and the department has nearly doubled, totaling 27. In 2017, there were 15 women, according to department spokesperson Major Jessica Bowman.
The current roster now includes Taylor, who was the only women in her recruit class alongside 26 men.
“In the academy I was worried about that, and I remember just meeting up with them for the first time, and they took me in with open arms,” she said.
The women told us any pushback they’ve received hasn’t come from within the department but from the public. According to Roberts, she noticed misconceptions more often when she became an officer.
“I would have people when we got on scene, and they would immediately turn to the men on the crew, and assume it was them in charge, rather than me being in charge,” she said.
Some of them still face additional challenges as working moms but say firefighting is actually a great career for women with kids, since they get multiple days off after their 24-hour shifts.
“The physicality of the job, and the nature of the job, and being away from home for 24 hours, sometimes that turns women off,” said Klarer. “But I do think we’ve come a long way as a society.”
Klarer points to the moments when little girls and their parents have approached her and asked for a photo, or when she’s able to connect with a survivor of domestic violence.
“Having a female on scene can bring a small amount of relief, because they’re not comfortable talking to a man,” she said.
And no matter their gender, these first responders say they have the best job in the world.
“When you’re all geared up, it’s hard to tell the gender anyway,” said Klarer.
“Do you need to be strong? Yes,” said Roberts. “But guess what? Women are strong.”
After a two year hiatus, a firefighter camp for girls is slated for this fall. The camp honors Brenda Cowan, the department’s first Black, female firefighter who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2004.