A VFD with a woman's touch

Published 7:13 am Monday, April 18, 2005

By By Lee Weyhrich
They put out fires, but don't call them firemen because nearly half of the Poarch Creek Volunteer Fire Department is women.
Fire Chief Ronnie Jackson says he couldn't survive without them.
"A lot of the time I don't know what I'd do without them," Jackson said. "During the day the women are usually the only ones I can count on. The men all have other jobs during the day."
Out of 29 firefighters 13 are women. All of the ladies are certified volunteers with at least 160 hours of training, but some of them are among the most well-trained members of the department.
"Three of these women are Hazmat technicians, I have one paramedic, two EMTs and one that's a firefighter I, firefighter II and has Hazmat certification," Jackson said.
To receive just firefighter I certification requires 13 weeks of training and EMT and Paramedic training is almost an ongoing process.
"Christine (McGhee) is one of my EMTs, but she's almost finished with paramedic," Jackson said.
So why does Christine McGhee enjoy fighting fires and responding to wrecks?
"I want to help people at their most critical stage," Christine said. "It just gives a good feeling to provide help to people that really need it."
Three of the ladies joined the fire department in 1988, six have been in about five years and whenever a few new ones come in, it encourages other ladies to join.
"We took our classes and since then a lot of women have joined," Trina Rackard, a five-year veteran of the department said. "I enjoy fire fighting, we do run on more medical calls and I don't enjoy them as much."
Carla McGhee, one of the Hazmat techs, also began volunteering about five years ago.
"I love to do it and help folks out," Carla said. "It was something I wanted to do and I finally got to do it."
Chastity Peebles, one of three lady firefighters to join in November of 2004, joined to help her community.
"I love to do it and help my Creek people and the City of Atmore when they need it," Chastity said.
The ladies attribute a lot of their success as firefighters to their dispatcher Susan O'Donovan, who is also a volunteer firefighter
"We've got a good dispatcher," Peebles said. "We wouldn't be able to do it without her."
Jackson and O'Donovan agree that that the department wouldn't be the same without the other ladies.
"They do a good job, I don't show a lot of favoritism one way or the other, but they get good response to Susan our dispatcher," Jackson said.
Jackson and the ladies of Poarch VFD have gotten a little teasing over the years, however.
"We had a grassfire one time and nine (ladies) showed up," Jackson laughed. "Charles Jackson, the Secretary Treasurer of our organization, told me, 'You've got it made.' I asked him what he meant and he said I had nine women putting out the fire and doing all the work, while I just sat back and watched."
A teasing group of State Troopers even suggested the ladies capitalize on the idea of a female dominated fire department.
"Those State Troopers wanted them to do a calendar," Jackson said as the ladies laughed.
While a "Women of the Poarch VFD" calendar may not be on the horizon any time soon, Jackson and the ladies do agree that they have a lot of fun with what they do.
"They just enjoy doing it, and without them I don't know what I'd do," Jackson said.
The women of the Poarch Creek VFD are Kim Wilson, Mandy Peebles, Chastity Peebles, Barbara Stephens, Carla McGhee, Brandi Rutherford, Theresa Cox, Judy Kirby, Christine McGhee, Connie Vickery, Trina Rackard, Susan O'Donovan and Rita Tullis.

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