Gainesville, Georgia Hires Its First Female Firefighter

History was made Wednesday when Gainesville's first female firefighter reported for duty at Station 2 on Piedmont Road.

Paula Herrmann, 32, said her first day started quietly. Only one false alarm, she said.

"The guys are really helpful," she said. "It's more like they answer questions before I have a chance to ask them."

The Colorado native said she's somewhat familiar with the territory. She worked as a volunteer firefighter in Colorado and in New Mexico as a paid firefighter.

"You have to assume the worst and get in that mindset," she said. "Otherwise, you're not prepared when you get on the scene."

Herrmann said her interest developed in 1998 during emergency medical technician training.

"To get a better idea, I decided to volunteer and get training through the department," she said. "I came to the conclusion that is was something I was interested in. I liked the interaction and lifestyle."

In 2000, Herrmann said she just had completed some training in New Mexico when called to assist with a fire that eventually burned thousands of acres and destroyed several hundred homes in Los Alamos. The trip involved three days of work and four hours of sleep, she said.

"That was a quick introduction," Herrmann said.

Herrmann said she saw flames that were hundreds of feet high and a fire that was creating its own weather patterns and wind currents.

The town was being evacuated as she and fire trucks from nearby states arrived.

"Elements of the fire were out of control," she said. "Imagine flames that were 200 feet high coming off pine trees. It was almost like an ocean tide. It destroyed 300 structures."

Gainesville Battalion Chief Stanley Bonds said other women have tried to become a city firefighter. But Herrmann is the first to prove she could complete drills including climbing ladders, carrying bodies and hoisting hoses, he said.

"The physical agility usually knocks them out," Bonds said.

Chief Dick Taylor said Herrmann is part of a new class of 19 recruits that began training at the Allen Creek training complex June 9. Even though the training does not end until mid-September, Herrmann is mixing one 24-hour shift with two days of classes each week.

Chief Mike Satterfield of Hall County Fire Services said his staff of firefighters includes five women. The five paramedics are assigned to four ambulances and one fire engine, he said.

Taylor said Herrmann eventually would be assigned to Station 4, the city's newest fire station on Memorial Park Road.

"She will have to show that she can do what guys can do," Taylor said. "There's no doubt in my mind that she can."