Being A Female Firefighter

Being a female firefighter can be tough, but I can’t think of a more accomplished firefighter than Gea Leigh Haff. For those of you who don’t know her she is the author behind the Triple F (Fabulous Female Firefighters) blog.

Not only is Gea and accomplished female firefighter, blogger and contributor to organizations such as JEMS and Fire Rescue Magazine. She currently works for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue with more than 12 years of service.

Gea isn’t just your average firefighter either.

She is also a paramedic, rescue diver and a special operations flight medic!  When she isn’t diving in the ocean, fighting fires or flying in helicopters she finds the time to author novels.

She is an inspiration to all firefighters, particularly women in the fire service. I had the opportunity to speak with Gea and get her advice to any aspiring firefighter.

What’s the most important trait for an aspiring FF to possess?

Tenacity. I love this word because tenacity conveys determination with persistence and you will need both in spades to have a career in the fire service. It’s a long process and you can’t give up or slack at any part of it. When I applied to Miami Dade Fire Rescue, I knew it would be competitive. 8,000 people applied with me. I obsessively prepped every part of the way (especially for the C-PAT) until the final step: the oral interview. I’d signed up to take a class on how to succeed at the fire service interview, but when the time came I wanted to bow out. I was coming off a long 24 hour shift in Key West. I’d been up for thirty hours and was exhausted and the test was about four hours of drive time away. I told my husband I was going to skip it. Thank god he gave me a pep talk, telling me I’d worked too hard for two years to slack now on the final stretch. I’d made it this far, he said, and had to finish strong. He volunteered to drive me to the class and I think we might have even gotten a hotel room.

I took the class and did a mock interview in front of everyone. I thought I’d done just fine, but I hadn’t. I’d blown it. My answers were off track. I didn’t know the bench marks or what administrators were looking for. The instructor explained where I’d gone wrong and how to insert my personal experience into the answers. Watching the whole class go through this process was enormously enlightening. Later, I took the actual interview and earned a perfect score which was instrumental in me getting the job and having the seniority that I have now. I shudder at the thought of how I almost slacked at the final point of preparation. If so, my career might have gone very differently.

So be tenacious through the entire process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. This applies to your rookie year too. Stay steady and finish strong.

A word of advice for a candidate/probie?

Manifest a positive willingness to work and remember, the best work is play too.

Work/Play on the whole spectrum of the job: fitness and nutrition, skills and knowledge, team dynamics, station duties, and play with how to regenerate your body and spirit so that you stay strong for your entire career. Shelve resentment or entitlement. Manifest willingness.

Best advice you ever received as a candidate/rookie?

Be yourself. Firefighters often run on thousands of people in their careers and can smell inauthenticity like smoke from a house fire. If you’re faking something or pretending to be tougher, smarter, or more experienced than you really are, it won’t take long for a firefighter to figure it out. People have told me I seem feminine for a firefighter. It’s just because I knew early on that if I tried to act like a guy, they wouldn’t buy it for one second. It’s hard to fool a firefighter for long. But when you perform effectively they’ll notice that too.

So know who you are and be yourself. If you’re not macho, don’t act macho. If you’re not great at something, don’t pretend. (Though don’t necessarily volunteer your weaknesses either!) If you love knitting and studying Swedish, do it. At first they may think you’re weird, but eventually, if you perform well on calls, they won’t care what you do for fun and will simply start making a lot of Swedish, knitting jokes.

How do you define success as a firefighter?

I define success as being an asset to my team physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When I say spiritually I don’t mean religiously; I mean fostering and strengthening the spirit of myself and those around me. We cannot separate the mind, body, heart, and spirit from each other. Firefighters tend to focus a lot on the body and on mental components such as learning skills and gaining knowledge. But our heart and spirit are what really carry us through this career in a healthy, rewarding way.

A firefighter with a balanced mind and strong spirit gives energy to those around him. In this career we’ll be exposed to enormous suffering and pain. Firefighters can be rough and sometimes lacerate each other with a thousand paper cuts. It’s all too easy to get burned out and drained. So if I can perform my job with a mental ease and willingness to serve, I consider that a success. And if I can make others stronger for my presence, then that is a huge success.

If you strengthen your team as a whole and serve the public in a compassionate, helpful way, then you are successful regardless of your rank or pay.

Keep working, be persistent, prepare for the interview and be an asset to those around you! Great advice from arguably one of the most accomplished firefighters I know.  

Being a female firefighter can be tough.  If you’re looking to contact Gea she can be reached in one of several ways either at the Triple F blog, her own website or on facebook.

Also, if you’re looking to start a career in the fire service and want  step-by-step guide to getting started check out our article on how to pass your firefighter interview.