My village hosts an annual Memorial Day parade.....and we've been blessed with great turnout and even better weather for the past few years. Our village is small (our coverage area is one square mile) but they are very pro-Fire Department. That might seem like a small statement....but for those of you who do not have the support of your community.....that support is huge. Our coverage area families completely buy into the services that we provide.....they attend our pancake/spaghetti/ carwash/barbecue fundraisers....we routinely sell out. Some of them drop in on Drill Nights just to watch....and our Open House policy is abused....in the best sense of that theorem.
I can't buy something in the village shops without getting preferential treatment, or a discount, or a "thanks...your money is no good here". I also love walking into our local Hannaford and playing "Mayor" during my grocery shopping forays (except when I'm having a bad hair day or have just come from the gym....sweaty....hair looks like Roseanne Rozannadanna's.......and I'm pretty certain that I smell)....in short......life in my village as a FD member is pretty good.
I'm blessed to work with a great bunch of guys and one other girl. Which brings me to a moment during this year's parade.
I'm all of the second female in the history of our department. My predecessor was a member for all of six months. Then she moved out of state. That said, my boys weren't exactly comfortable with having a female on the department. They were NOT misogynists......but my precursor was apparently skimming the department for dates....so I had some work ahead of me in terms of proving my intent. .
I would go as far as to say that their attitude toward my role in the FD wasn't unjustified, based on their sole experience with a female firefighter. I spent several weeks of drill nights getting the " let me get that for you" atttitude...which, although respectful, wasn't particularly accepting. I fought it on a weekly basis. I got dirty, worked harder than the expectation....and went above and beyond.
I had a Come to Jesus moment with them during a call...during which I not only pulled my weight.....I busted my a$$ on rehab and hose detail. I knew that I'd been accepted the following week when I realized that my brethren were no longer apologizing for using "blue" language and was greeted at arrival at the firehouse with "Yo...Shea". Big steps for them.....and relief on my end. I park my gender at the door when I'm at the station....and the moment that I realized that my fellow members were finally doing the same validated my entire experience and refueled my passion for the job.
One month ago I was elected to the position of Lieutenant. I wasn't all on board with the why's and wherefores.....and withdrew my candidancy at one point....mainly because I thought my nomination was based on political issues internally vs. my merit. The same day that I attempted to withdraw, I had a conversation with my Captain, whom I respect and would follow into hell if asked. To paraphrase him..."you've earned the respect, you're putting in the time, and we wouldn't have nominated you if we didn't think you could make a positive impact. Quit yer bitchin, man up and take the position". Nuff said.
Back to the parade.....when we do our dress parade marches....we line up with officers first, then the general membership with longer-term members first.
The Senior Center bus directly in front of us kept breaking down all along the parade route. The route was roughly two miles...no biggie...unless you're sporting shoes that you wear six times per year...you're in a long-sleeved shirt buttoned up to the collar.....the sun is beating down.....90% of the marchers are hung over from the festivities the night before....and your phalanx is getting dive-bombed by black flies while standing in place for 15 minutes at a time waiting for the Senior Services bus to get rolling again. "it's hot, I'm hot, is it hot? I'm hot" ...was the general sentiment....expressed so beautifully by a fellow member....."My feet are hot, I'm sweating a river down my back and I think I might have to yack....is it bad form to puke in formation?".
So we're marching along our Bataan Death March route....and a very enthusiastic parade observer is screeching from the sidelines....."Yay Voorheesville FireMEN" ....."we love fireMEN" ....."Go Voorheesville FireMEN" ....and then she spots ME. I don't do the whole "hair under the hat" crap....I'm a girl, I'm a firefighter, I have long hair.....deal with it. I leave it down, but keep a hair band on my wrist in case we get called out and I need to stuff it under my hood. I also have plastic baggies with hair ties on each of our trucks....I'm a realist. Loose hair over a foot in length stuffed under Nomex for more than an hour sucks.
Her "yay" rant changes to this....."Yay Voorheesville Firemen......uh.........Fire PEOPLE....uh......Firewomen......" which then seques to "She's an OFFICER???????"
"Oh My God.....she's an OFFICER".....
Think I took any crap from my boys that day? ALL FREAKING DAY....... "Mel...want a beer?...oh wait....OH MY GOD....IS SHE AN OFFICER????" .....to...."can I get you a hot dog .....Firepeople?"
I'm a historic first in terms of my officer status pertaining to gender. I'm a lowly Lt.....but I'm taking advantage of my position and my department's lack of experience and hesitancy in terms of female-ness to institute training and safety policies. Is it reverse-misogyny? Maybe. But if my tactics result in better training, and more stringent adherence to life-saving response....then I say......so effing what?! I'll do whatever it takes to make our department work smarter and ensure that everyone goes home.
They don't call me the Seatbelt Nazi for nothing.