Women in Uni­form

Casey Burch

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Contents - Story by Lindsey Wells, pho­tog­ra­phy by Richard Ras­mussen

Casey Burch, 24, moved to Hot Springs in 2012 af­ter at­tend­ing Hen­der­son State Univer­sity for a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy. She likes to help peo­ple and knew she wanted to do some­thing that would make a dif­fer­ence. But, she quickly dis­cov­ered psy­chol­ogy “wasn't her thing.”

Two years ago, a po­si­tion at the Hot Springs Fire De­part­ment be­came avail­able and she jumped at it.

“I was al­ways in­ter­ested and when the po­si­tion came open I didn't ex­pect to get it but I thought, `Hey, I'll try and see what hap­pens,' and it worked out,” she said, adding that the job was “one of those dream jobs that not many peo­ple fol­low through with.”

Af­ter she found out she got the job, Burch went through a 40-hour ori­en­ta­tion at the main fire sta­tion in down­town Hot Springs where she was fa­mil­iar­ized with the equip­ment and ba­sic ter­mi­nol­ogy. She then went to Cam­den for eight weeks of train­ing.

“It's ba­si­cally just ev­ery­thing to do with fire­fight­ing. You learn a lit­tle bit about cars be­cause when you go to car wrecks that's im­por­tant, but mostly it's fire­fight­ing, ven­tila- tion and stuff like that. You spend eight weeks down there and then you come back and it's just con­tin­u­ous train­ing here,” Burch said.

“I feel like I'm su­per lucky; the guys that I work with like to train also so some­times it's all day. We'll shut all the lights off in the build­ing and one of them will hide and we'll have to crawl in and find him in the dark, drag him out, stuff like that, so we learn all the time,” she said.

Burch works 24-hour shifts, from 7 a.m. to 7 a.m., 24 hours on, 48 hours off, and so forth. She said a nor­mal day on the job for

her be­gins with a run at 5:45 a.m. be­fore she ar­rives at the sta­tion at 6:45 a.m. At 7 a.m. she eats break­fast with the guys on her shift and they get into uni­form.

“Af­ter break­fast we do a cleanup, so, as the hose­man — I'm the youngest one on the pole at my sta­tion — I usu­ally get bath­rooms and trash, so our morn­ings are cleanup, scrub the toi­lets every day, stuff like that. We don't have a jan­i­tor that comes in here and does it for us; we take care of this sta­tion like it's our house.”

As a fe­male fire­fighter, and the only fe­male cur­rently em­ployed with HSFD, Burch said the re­ac­tions she re­ceives from other peo­ple are one of her fa­vorite as­pects of the job.

“I went to the academy with one other fe­male out of 35 of us. We're very much a mi­nor­ity but I think that it is kind of grow­ing and that's also some­thing I would like to set an ex­am­ple for, you know. Hon­estly, be­ing a fe­male fire­fighter shouldn't be any dif­fer­ent. I'm a fire­man; the guys help me — they do help me when I need it and make sure that if it's some­thing that I can do, they're go­ing to let me strug­gle it out. They let me learn and teach my­self. If it's life threat­en­ing they're ob­vi­ously go­ing to step in and say `Hey, I'll help you.'

“When I first came on it was re­ally men­tally hard for me be­cause lit­tle things — pick­ing up an ax, it was, `Hey, don't hurt your­self.' It kind of took just hav­ing a few struc­ture fires and I was hot and I was tired and I was not go­ing to stop, and now, on what nor­mally would be a two per­son job, they'll say, `Hey, watch this, she'll do it.' I've had to prove my­self but I don't think they look at me any dif­fer­ent now that I've been here long enough.”

Burch said she wasn't treated dif­fer­ently by her co- work­ers for be­ing a fe­male, but that the guys at the sta­tion were prob­a­bly a bit skep­ti­cal when she first started, which she said she com­pletely un­der­stands and ex­pected.

“Hon­estly, if we were to get an­other fe­male, I would be skep­ti­cal also. It's chal­leng­ing and any­one, guys in­cluded, they kind of have to prove them­selves. Ev­ery­body does,” she said.

On an en­gine com­pany, Burch said there is a lieu­tenant, a driver, an en­gi­neer and a hose­man, or fire­fighter. Though she's at the “bot­tom of the chain” right now, hav­ing only been there two years, Burch said she ab­so­lutely hopes to make a life­long ca­reer out of her job.

“I think mak­ing a dif­fer­ence is more im­por­tant than hav­ing the rank, to me. If the rank comes with it, that's cool, but my gen­er­a­tion un­for­tu­nately is very en­ti­tled to things. I have a lot of friends my age and I'm just like, `Come on, you have a job, you're fine.' As fire­fight­ers, we're not just cit­i­zens; peo­ple look to us and when we help them, it's the worst day of their life. Oh, yeah, we have to clean the toi­lets. OK, so what? We're here for 24 hours and we're get­ting paid. Mak­ing a dif­fer­ence is more im­por­tant than wear­ing the rank but I would like to be an of­fi­cer one day, or lieu­tenant or cap­tain, just wher­ever I fit in,” Burch said.

She added that while she loves her job, the work sched­ule some­times causes her to miss hol­i­days, birth­days and other events at home.

“It's kind of a Catch 22 — there's a pos­i­tive side and a neg­a­tive side,” she said. “We're here for 24 hours, we're home for 48. Those 48 are won­der­ful but the 24, we miss a lot. My girl­friend and I just bought a home in De­cem­ber so we have big projects that we want to work on and be­tween her work sched­ule and mine, it doesn't al­ways play in our fa­vor, but, when it does, it's awe­some to have two days off,” she said.

To be good at your job as a fire­fighter, Burch said there is one thing you must have: pas­sion. To do the job well, even if it means train­ing on your days off or train­ing while at work, she said if you're pas­sion­ate about what you do, you'll make it work.

“It's not easy leav­ing your fam­ily and miss­ing hol­i­days, birth­days. If you're pas­sion­ate, you'll make it work,” she said.

Hav­ing a strong sup­port sys­tem at home is also ex­tremely im­por­tant.

“It's just as hard, if not harder, for them at home than it is for us here. We're with our sec­ond fam­ily here. I'm with these guys for 24 hours. We have to be in the same room at all times just so we don't miss a call, so some­times we end up spend­ing more time with our fire fam­ily than with our fam­ily at home, and it can be dif­fi­cult, but, if you want it, ded­i­ca­tion, you'll make it work,” she said.

In ad­di­tion to her reg­u­lar job du­ties as a fire­fighter, Burch is in­volved with wa­ter res­cue and just re­cently fin­ished an EMT class. This month, she will start para­medic school and keep work­ing on her bach­e­lor's de­gree.

When asked what the scari­est mo­ment she's had on the job was thus far, she re­called one of her very first struc­ture fire calls.

“We had the big­gest part of the fire knocked down and they had set up the aerial truck, the big lad­der, and they were spray­ing wa­ter in through the roof. I was given an or­der, my­self and an­other hose­man, to go around the back and start putting out some small fires, so we did. Whether it was lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion or what­ever it was, we were in­side the build­ing, maybe 10-15 feet, and I turned around to hit the fire that was above me and the aerial truck went for the same fire and ended up blow­ing me and the other guy out the back door and off about a six-foot deck.

“We both were OK; we lost it for a minute and kind of came to and said `Hey, what hap­pened?' That's a lot of gal­lons com­ing at you re­ally fast, and I was new, so not only was it scary but I didn't know if I messed up, if I was in trou­ble. I think I did what I was told to do,” she said.

Burch said her ad­vice to any­one in­ter­ested in be­com­ing a fire­fighter is just to learn all you can and fig­ure out what the re­quire­ments are for the de­part­ment you want to be on and try to get as many of them as pos­si­ble.

“Any­thing that you can get that's go­ing to make you more de­sir­able to a de­part­ment, get that,” she said. “Stay in shape; you never know when the phone calls com­ing. Be ready when you ap­ply to be hired, don't ap­ply and then try to build your­self up to be­ing ready. And make sure that your fam­ily is on board, be­cause that can cause some is­sues.”

“It's not easy leav­ing your fam­ily and miss­ing hol­i­days, birth­days. If you're pas­sion­ate, you'll make it work.” - Casey Burch

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