04-26-2003, 08:03 AM #1
Key West Fla--Fire Department Hires First Female Firefighter
First female firefighter finesses spot
BY J.J. HYSELL
KEY WEST -- Many before her have valiantly tried, but no other woman in 167 years has accomplished what Monica Weber has done at the Key West Fire Department.
The first female firefighter to strap on a helmet in department history began her historic journey as a pioneer Wednesday, her first day on the job. The native of Colorado said she isn't concentrating on gender issues -- she's more interested in learning, taking care of citizens, and, of course, answering the call to duty.
"The main thing is fighting fires," Weber said. "The adrenaline rush is just amazing. Public safety is most important."
Weber, 32, is a former U.S. Navy firefighter and also served with the Islamorada and Tavernier fire departments. She came to the Keys after working at Sea World in Ohio; the top-notch scuba diving and water recreation beckoned. She worked in a hospital emergency unit because she enjoys taking care of people and helping them through troubled times.
But no matter what your gender, that firefighter instinct just can't be ignored.
"Somebody at the hospital said 'Why don't you want to be a nurse?'" she said. "I asked her, 'Do you have a desire to run into a burning building?' She said no. I said, 'I do.'"
Weber has earned her dive master certification, firefighter EMT certification and Emergency Vehicle Operator certification and completed her training through the Monroe County Fire Department. Weber was one of three women who attempted the intensive training -- she was the only one to pass the tests, and pass she did with flying colors. She finished at the top of the list in the tough physical agility test, a challenge that often claims the dreams of many men aspiring to be blaze battlers.
"I wanted to run circles around the guys," she said. "I was trying every day to do that."
Fire Chief Billy Wardlow said minority recruitment became a priority with the department in the late '80s and early '90s. Although many women tried to join the department, they fell short in qualifying. Financial factors played a role as well -- including for Weber, who had to decline an earlier offer to try for the department before a salary raise was implemented by the union and city commissioners.
"What I believe stops a lot of people, both male and female, is the cost of living," Wardlow said.
Division Fire Marshal David Fraga said it is the start of a new era for Key West firefighters.
"Monica doesn't realize just what she has accomplished," Fraga said.
No special treatment is in store for Weber, and she likes it that way. She said the firefighter family has adopted her just as they would any rookie.
"They give me a hard time like they would give anybody else a hard time," she said. "I think that's great. It's good to know that they're counting on my experience."
Weber advised women hoping to break ground in their field of choice to keep pursuing their goals.
"Never give up, that's the main thing," she said. "I knew a girl who is the size of a toothpick, but she made it through the fire academy because it was in her head and in her heart. It depends on what's inside of you. You have to really want it. I was getting frustrated for a while, but I didn't quit. I said 'This is the year.'"
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The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.
04-26-2003, 03:16 PM #2
Hey...Good for her. Sounds like she worked extreamly
hard to get where she is. Great rewards come to the
motivated and educated.
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