‘I have always been treated with respect’: My story of inclusion
As a woman in the fire service, I am so grateful for my extended family and this group of role models for my son
By Allison Taylor
It was the first meeting I had attended at the North Transylvania Fire Rescue Department in Pisgah Forest, N.C. It happened to be an extrication training where we practiced cutting into an old minivan. It was dark outside, blowing snow and freezing cold. There was a mix of older, seasoned firefighters and newer recruits such as myself.
I was the only woman, didn’t know most of these guys, and was automatically impressed with their willingness to let me dive right into the training. When the instructor first offered, “OK, now who wants to try it?” no one hesitated when the new girl was the first to step forward and say, “I do!”
‘They have truly become my second family’
I had considered joining the volunteer fire and rescue service for many years, and I finally made the commitment in December 2013.
Before I signed up, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what might be involved, but I quickly discovered that there is so much more to our local departments than I had ever imagined.
When I joined, there was only one other female member (there have since been a few), and for this department to take me in with such kindness, support, respect and patience has been a true privilege. I couldn’t ask for a better group of fellow firefighters, and they have truly become my second family.
‘Applaud the men who have welcomed me’
Being in a rural area of western North Carolina, I knew the fire service to be a predominately male field. Plus, our area is steeped in the old-fashioned traditions of the southern Appalachians, where, in general, men and women tend to stay pretty set in pre-determined gender roles. However, I’m extremely fortunate that in my 8½ years in the fire service, I have yet to face any of the problems of discrimination or harassment that I hear from other women in the industry. I have trained with and responded mutual aid with so many men from so many different departments, and I have always been treated with respect. We hear so many stories of women who have negative experiences in the fire service, and I think it’s important to also highlight those like myself who have a wonderful fire community. And because I have been surrounded by so many wonderful male firefighters, I wanted to share my positive experience. I want to recognize and applaud the men who have welcomed me into this field, and continue to support me every step of the way.
The men at my station and those I trained with became valued role models for my son, and I’m proud to say that my son is now serving as a junior firefighter.
When I first joined the department, I was at the tail end of a challenging marriage. I never expected that this firefighter crew would fill such a void in my life. It gave me an escape on Thursday evenings from the hell I was living at home. The firefighters at North Transylvania Fire Rescue reminded me of how I deserved to be treated. I credit these men, many of whom are now my closest friends, with giving me the strength and courage to leave my husband, even though at that time, they were unaware of the challenges of my situation.
When I started the firefighter training series, I was a single mom with a 9-year-old son. My son got dragged with me to the evening trainings. When it was his bedtime, he was put to sleep in random bunks at random stations, sleeping contently while tones went off. The men at my station and those I trained with became valued role models for my son. I’m proud to say that my son is now serving as a junior firefighter, and has been working hard toward obtaining his certifications.
‘Carve out time to give back’
I own two businesses and have a family, yet it’s important to me that I carve out time to give back to the community. I am absolutely loving the opportunity to contribute to a valuable community service, and the family of firefighters I gained is such a huge part of my life. I’m so thankful that I made a commitment to this volunteer endeavor.
About the Author
Captain Allison Taylor is a volunteer with North Transylvania Fire Rescue in Pisgah Forest, N.C. In addition to being an officer, Taylor is also the vice chair and treasurer of the department’s board of directors. Her certifications include Firefighter II, Wildland Firefighter, Land Search Team Field Member, FLSE, Chief 101, and Officer 1 and 2, and she is working to complete her Technical Rescuer certification.