THE HISTORY OF WOMEN FIREFIGHTERS

Women have not always been allowed to fight fires. There are a few stories about women firefighters in early America. Urbana Illinois didn't hire its first woman firefighter until 1990.

One of the women who has been remembered in history is named Molly. Molly was a slave who's master was a member of New York's Engine Company No.11. Molly is best remembered for the night a fire broke out during a blizzard in 1818. At the sound of an alarm, Molly answered right along with her master. Molly took her work seriously and was proud to be "as good a fire laddie as many of the boys who bragged at being such."

Another woman that has been remembered in history is Marina Betts. Marina Betts was a resident of Shinebone Alley in Pittsburgh in the 1820s. Marina was 5 ft. 2 in. She was described as a "recruiting sergeant." As soon as a fire was discovered, Marina would be joining the bucket brigade and making sure everyone around joined in, too. After fifty years people said this about her: "She was more effective in securing workers than half a dozen captains." So Marina Betts was remembered fifty years later in Pittsburgh, for these actions. Lillie, like the other two, has also been remembered in history. Lillie Hitchcock Coit lived in San Fransisco, was very social, and hung out with upper-class people. Lillie was also one of the richest heiresses in the Bay City. Lillie was 15 years old and on her way home from school when she spotted a company of shorthanded volunteers trying to run their engine up Telegraph Hill to a fire. They were falling behind the other companies, so Lillie grabbed an open spot on the ropes and shouted "Come on you men! Let's beat 'em!" Lillie said of herself that she "loved courage in uniform." The men of Knickerbocker No.5 loved her courage also. They made her an honorary member. From then on, she was expected to be wherever "No.5" was. They always regarded her presence worth more than that of many men, for they redoubled their efforts when she stood looking on with pride at the work of her company. When she married, she quit her fire work, but until she died she wore a little solid gold "5" pinned on her dress, and she signed her name "Lillie H. Coit 5"

Amy Richardson was the first female firefighter in Urbana, Illinois. On Wednesday, October 30,1990 at 7:00 a.m., Amy Richardson, who was 23, became the first woman firefighter on the Urbana Fire Department. Amy was a volunteer firefighter with Edge-Scott Fire Protection District. Before joining Urbana's fire department, she was certified as a level 3 firefighter, two levels above beginning grade. She was also certified as an emergency medical technician and an emergency rescue technician.

Male firefighters were often very rude and were abusive to the women. They played practical jokes and used sexual behavior. They did these things as a tradition. They pulled down their pants as a practical joke. Some men wouldn't even talk to the women because they felt that they shouldn't be there and women couldn't do as good a job as men. The women had to go through a lot of things and had a lot of pressure on them.

Nancy Ducey was one of the women who had to go through a lot of things similar to these. Nancy Ducey is now an instructor at the Illinois Fire Service Institute. She specifically teaches about hazardous waste. She has also helped write some of the test questions to become a firefighter. Nancy Ducey experienced problems as a woman firefighter. For example, when there was a phone call for her, the person who answered it would turn on the microphone as a signal for her to come to the phone, but would not speak to her. She felt the men believed that she shouldn't be there, because it was a man's job.

All of these women were very brave to stand up and fight fires. They've shown that women are very capable of fighting fires, even with all the obstacles put in their way.


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