Starkville resident and Mississippi State University student Bethany Allen, 20, recently became the first female firefighter hired at SFD in 22 years. This month she finally fulfilled a lifelong dream as she began working full-time at the department. Photo by: Devin Edgar/Dispatch Staff
December 22, 2017 10:41:22 AM
When 20-year-old Bethany Allen was growing up in Brandon, she said she grew up with the Brandon Fire Department almost in her "backyard."
As her childhood years went by, the petite blond watched potential firefighters train for their spot from afar, hoping one day the girl walking across the yard with a water-filled hose would be her.
Her opportunity did not arise in Brandon, but in Starkville.
"I've always wanted to have a public service role, whether I was a cop or a firefighter," Allen said. "This has been my goal since the beginning."
Now Allen is the first female firefighter to be employed by Starkville Fire Department in more than 22 years. In fact, the last time SFD saw a female firefighter in 1995, Allen was not yet born.
Only living in Starkville for two years, Allen, who is also a Mississippi State University sophomore, said she was juggling classes, her job as a personal trainer at a local gym and, of course, training herself to be up-to-speed when it came time for her firefighter's test.
After learning of the opening at SFD, Allen said, she approached Fire Chief Charles Yarbrough to express her interest in the position. In return, Yarbrough created a training course for her in hopes to set her up for success.
Allen spent the months leading up to her official test running water hoses across fields, carrying dumbbells, running with a dummy, climbing and pulling ropes up the fire tower. As a certified personal trainer, she said her physical fitness plays a large role in her life.
But she quickly learned the difference between her normal routine and firefighter training, she said.
"I was training before the position even opened," Allen said. "But this was a different type of workout. It was much more intense.
"When you are at the gym, it's easy to think you're giving the workout all you can.," she added. "And you can get away with not pushing yourself as much. But doing this kind of training makes you realize just how much you're truly capable of. I know it was much more than I thought."
Yarbrough credited Allen's success to her willingness to learn. He said though she's the only female on his firefighter roster, he's certain she can hold her own with her peers.
"It is a little different for her, and some of the physical activities that comes with the job might take her longer to get used to," Yarbrough said. "But she never quits, she's never intimidated and she always stands up for herself, which is important in a male-dominant field."
Although Allen is a full-time SFD firefighter, she has not yet completed the state fire academy to become a certified firefighter, which includes a seven-week basic firefighter course in the spring. She must then complete EMT training.
Allen said her regular schedule is 24 hours on duty, followed by 48 hours off duty.
A male-dominated field
As far as being the lone female in the department, and one of the few in a male-dominated field, Allen said "they aren't that different."
"I think a lot of people think this is a big deal, and it is as an accomplishment," Allen said. "But there really isn't a huge gap between us. They don't treat me any differently, and that's what is important."
Yarbrough said he has been interested in adding females to the team for more diversity to his group of firefighters. Allen was the only one of three women who tested to become a firefighter at SFD who passed both the physical and aptitude test.
Originally, Yarbrough added, a few of the guys on the team were somewhat apprehensive, but he noticed that change quickly as Allen became adjusted.
"I think sometimes people may have a problem with change, especially once they become comfortable, but they did adjust quickly," Yarbrough said. "Now, she's just a firefighter here. And if she keeps doing what she's doing now, she can be a great one."
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