Mom of 11 Among PA Department's First Female FFs

Aug. 30, 2019
"I wanted to be able to help people in the community around me," said new Wilkes-Barre firefighter Jessica Crawford, whose husband has served the department for 20 years.

WILKES-BARRE,PA—Thursday was a historic day for the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department with the hire of three female firefighters — one of them, a mother of 11.

“We have one female paramedic, but this is the first time in the history of the fire department that we’ve hired female firefighters,” Fire Chief Jay Delaney said after a swearing-in ceremony in council chambers.

As Mayor Tony George swore in six new recruits, the department’s complement of firefighter/EMTs grew to 66 — three more than funded in George’s 2019 general budget.

The new firefighter/EMTs are:

  • Jessica Crawford; her husband, Michael, pinned on her badge.
  • Danielle Illiano; her father, Steve Johnson, pinned on her badge.
  • Christopher Scavone; his wife, Janice, pinned on his badge.
  • Matthew Stephenson; his grandfather Jack Stephenson pinned on his badge.
  • Kristin Payton; her grandmother Susan Deubler pinned on her badge.
  • Richard Machey; his father-in-law, Assistant Fire Chief William Murtha, pinned on his badge.

They will begin 14 weeks of firefighter training followed by four weeks of emergency medical technician training Tuesday at the Luzerne County Community College Public Safety Training Institute.

Making history

Delaney welcomed the recruits, reminding them they are joining a fire department that is 212 years old. He told the recruits’ family members they won’t be there for many holidays and family events because of scheduling, and the recruits will need their support.

The chief noted the department lost more than 400 years of combined firefighting experience over the past 18 months because of retirements, so the newest recruits, along with six others hired earlier this month, are sorely needed.

Delaney also addressed the female recruits specifically.

“You earned the right to be a Wilkes-Barre firefighter/EMT, passing the firefighter entrance exam and firefighter physical agility test. You did not receive this position because of your gender. You will make history today by becoming the city’s first female firefighters,” Delaney said.

A mom and role model

The recruit with the most family members gathered around as her badge was pinned on was Jessica Crawford.

She was surrounded by her husband and all 11 of their children, who range in age from 11 months to 17 years old.

“I wanted to be able to help people in the community around me, especially if I was leaving home and, you know, coming out into the workforce,” Crawford said when asked why she applied for the job. “I wanted to do something really different, and this is a great opportunity to do that.”

Working with her husband, who has been with the department for nearly 20 years, “will be great,” she said.

“My husband and I get along well, obviously,” she said. “We’ve been married for almost 19 years, and we’ve got 11 kids, so we know how to work well together, and we really love each other, so I know it will be just fine.”

Before she even took the civil service test, Jessica and Michael discussed the scheduling and family-rearing challenges and decided both of them working full-time for the department was achievable.

“The schedule here is great because it’s three days on, three days off. And we’ve been a firefighter family for almost 20 years now, so we’re used to it,” Jessica said. “We have at this point four older children who are able to baby sit, and I also have a great family willing to help out if needed.”

In her new career, Crawford hopes she can be a role model for other women.

“I was nervous telling my kids I was going to go back to work. But they told me they were so proud, and to me, that meant a lot. Just having that sense of pride made all the difference,” Crawford said.

Contact the writer: [email protected], 570-821-2110, @MocarskyCV


©2019 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)

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