High Heels to Rubber Boots

Photo by Logan Weaver / Unsplash

One of the perks of being retired is that you have the time to follow something that catches your eye—right down the rabbit hole. Such was the case for me a couple of days ago.

I was reading a brief article about a collection of women’s obituaries. Among many others, it mentioned Joan King, a “stereotype-busting firefighter” who, according to her husband, could go from high heels to rubber boots in three minutes. She was one of the first women volunteer firefighters in California, serving at both the Dry Creek and Mayacamas Fire Departments. Despite her slight frame, Joan drove the engines, set the hoses and was known for her calming presence on fire calls. Joan passed in 2008 at the age of 85, an adored grandmother to seven.

I was reminded of the book Women at Ground Zero: Stories of Courage and Compassion in which authors Susan Hagen and Mary Carouba interviewed 30 female firefighters, police officers, paramedics, EMTs and others who responded to the World Trade Center tragedy on September 11. 2001.

A Google search of women firefighters brought up an incredible article in The New York Times Magazine about incarcerated women firefighters from California.   Inmates accepted into this special program are sent to one of three forestry conservation camps to undergo training for what will be grueling and dangerous work clearing brush to create fire breaks, often in steep terrain. Highlighted in this article is Shawna Lynn Jones, a 22-year-old inmate who had less than two months to serve on her sentence when she tragically lost her life on a ravine in Malibu during the Mulholland fire.

Currently, the California Conservation Corps, through a partnership with the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, is recruiting women interested in fire service for a ten-week internship program in Yosemite.

A 2020 report by the National Fire Protection Association estimates that eleven percent of volunteer firefighters are women while they represent only four percent of career firefighters.

With wildfire season upon us, I want to take a moment on this blog to thank all fire service workers and, in particular, honor Joan, Shawna Lynn and all women firefighters for their courage, resilience and dedication to their work.

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