Saving Lives “Like a Girl:” Feminism & First Responders
By Ris Howie
Ris is a fierce, funny young woman who spent a semester last year as an intern at CHOICES. We were delighted by her hard work and intelligence, and we were humbled by her incredible story.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that out of 1.2 million first responders, 3 out of 4 EMT/Medics and 19 out of 20 firefighters are men. Read that again. Out of 1.2 million in the last current statistics.
This daddy’s little girl has been dreaming of fire trucks and ambulance lights since age six. To this day, every time a fire department ambulance passes by all I want to do is jump in and ask if I can ride along. “Age six, that’s oddly specific,” one might say. But born in 1994, I was six years old on September 11, 2001. On the one year anniversary, Mister Rogers gave this quote in comfort to the children of America and the world: “When I was a boy I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Every year my Mississippi classrooms would feature the first responders dashing in and out of the burning towers and giving medical aid to victims. I wanted to be just like them, helping.
My awe over the brave men featured in the images on my classroom TV screen every year dashing in and out of the burning towers and giving medical aid to victims grew. Read that sentence again. My awe over the men featured every year as the first responders grew. The men. On 9/11, there were 25 female firefighter first responders out of 11,500 in the New York Fire Department. Though they had contributed significantly, these women never appeared on my screen. These women are my role models, the bad ass women who know our gender in no way detracts from our ability to storm burning buildings, administer medical care in a rig, and provide excellent emergency services to all who pass our way.
Out of my twenty-one years, I did not meet any of these fierce ladies until my eighteenth. After my high school graduation, I moved to Panama City Beach, Florida and began a typical summer job at the local ice cream store. My first day, I was trained by a spunky coworker named Jessica in the minutiae of scooping technique. Little did I know she would come to train me in even greater ways.
A volunteer firefighter, Jessica spent most of her free time with Bay County Fire and Rescue. I had found the living breathing, close to home embodiment of the female first responders I had long admired. While working and going to school to achieve her degree, Jessica continued to put in large amounts of hours with the station. Career positions across the nation are often difficult to achieve with only so many spots available and an always present flow of aspiring fighters coming out of the academy. But this didn’t slow her down. Her hard work and dedication to her passion paid off and I had the honor of knowing her when she was offered a career position with Bay County.
I continue to be in awe of my amazingly strong and kind friend. She never ceased to share her experiences and knowledge, teaching me about fire chemistry and how to find a fire’s point of origin. I eagerly listened to her stories of first responder life in PCB and watched as she received training to stick IVs and provide emergency medical care. She showed me that the powers of passionate persistence and womanly strength could break through the glass ceiling of this male dominated field towards success as a female first responder.
This summer I will be enrolled in EMT school and will finally achieve my life long dream of riding along side the fire medics I have long admired through the clinical internship portion of the curriculum with Memphis Fire Department.
Jess, this one is for you. Thank you for showing me what it looks like to never give up your dreams of becoming a female first responder and showing all who doubt our abilities just what it looks like to save lives like a damn PROUD girl. While one can argue, we may be shorter in stature, we might weigh less than our male counterpart, we might be naturally built differently, but no matter the physicality stats women are just as capable as men of transporting patients, carrying fire hose from the truck, and kicking ass in the field of emergency response.
The 1 of 4, the 1 of 20, we females are a strong and empowered ONE.
Ris Howie is a rising senior at Rhodes College from Panama City Beach, Florida. In her spare time she interns at CHOICES and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
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