By Cindie Schooner-Ball
Stay calm, cool, and focused. Project confidence, even when you’re not feeling it. None of them – not your fellow trainees or your instructors – know who you are or what you’re made of yet. And you don’t know them, either. I learned quickly that the toughest-looking, most intimidating bad-ass can just as easily turn out to be the biggest whiner or your best advocate.
Trust me when I tell you that you will learn very quickly who has your back and who will throw you under the bus for their own selfish gain. As a woman in the field, I also learned quickly that some of my colleagues believed strength, courage, tenacity, and resolution could only come in a six-foot male package. That was the case throughout the course of my career, and I know it’s still the case today. Some of those colleagues will try and charm you, wanting to get to know you on a more personal level, and others will make it clear they think women are better equipped to stay in the kitchen than the firehouse. That is nonsense, of course – just their own insecurities showing. Nonetheless, it takes significant inner strength not to let them get to you.
Fire academy was tough, but I loved every bit of it. To me, passing the state exam and receiving my State of Florida Fire Certificate was a miracle. But if I thought that training was hard, boy, was I in for a rude awakening…
Our recruit class consisted of nine men and two women knowing how hard it was going to be – and how much harder we’d have to work to prove ourselves – the other female and I made a pact with each other to never cry or whine outside of the confines of the women’s bathroom.
And we never did.
About the Author
Cindie Schooner-Ball began her career as a first responder with the fire service in the mid-1980s. She recognized early on that to succeed as both a firefighter and a woman in a mostly male workplace would require perseverance, grit and the ability to command respect. Over her three-decade career, she pushed herself to tackle new challenges and rise into leadership positions. She became an EMT and then a paramedic, while also earning a degree in fire science. When she finally achieved the rank of captain, she was the only woman at the induction ceremony. Now retired, Schooner-Ball loves speaking to people about her experiences as a first responder and as a woman in a male-dominated industry.