At Fire Sta­tion 1, An­nie Hoxie fol­lows fam­ily tra­di­tion

The Herald Sun - - Local - BY HANK TUCKER Spe­cial to The Her­ald-Sun

When An­nie Hoxie tried to start one of the Durham Fire Depart­ment’s old re­serve trucks to drive her crew to Har­ris Teeter, the truck beeped an­grily.

From the back seat, vet­eran fire­fighter Richard Chavis urged her to trou­bleshoot.

“Why won’t it go, Hoxie?” he asked, like a par­ent quizzing a teen with a learner’s per­mit. “Hoxie, slow down. How do the air brakes work?”

Hoxie hes­i­tated, which prompted a brief les­son on com­pressed air and stor­age tanks. Af­ter she ad­justed a dial in front of her, she got the truck to roll out of Fire Sta­tion 1 in down­town Durham, bound for the su­per­mar­ket to buy din­ner for the rest of the shift. Suc­cess.

Hoxie, 28, has been a fire­fighter for 21⁄ years 2 and wants to move up: re­lief driver, driver, cap­tain and then bat­tal­ion chief. That was the high­est rank her fa­ther, Craig Hoxie, achieved be­fore re­tir­ing from the Durham Fire Depart­ment.

She doesn’t want to go any higher than he did. That would mean an of­fice job, which is not her thing. But she has found that she en­joys the fam­ily busi­ness, so to speak.

Times have changed. There weren’t any fe­male fire­fight­ers when her fa­ther started his ca­reer. And to­day, they make up less than 5 per­cent of Durham fire­fight­ers, with no women at bat­tal­ion chief or above.

“Peo­ple aren’t sure what to call me. They’re like, ‘fire­lady?’” Hoxie said. “’Fire­fighter’ is fine. I don’t even get of­fended by ‘fire­man.’ Some women do, though.”

‘BI­OL­OGY IS AGAINST US’

New Durham Fire Chief Robert Zol­dos in­tro­duces him­self to the A shift at Fire Sta­tion 1 dur­ing his first morn­ing on the job.

Hoxie is the only woman on duty, part of the team on the en­gine along with Chavis and Capt. David Triplett. A smaller squad truck at the sta­tion re­sponds to emer­gency calls. The teams work closely, clean­ing the sta­tion ev­ery day and al­ter­nat­ing who buys and cooks din­ner.

As she hopped out of the truck with Chavis and Triplett, she said some peo­ple as­sume that she’s just their driver. That’s of­ten a chal­lenge be­ing a woman: She has to prove her­self among her male peers.

“Bi­ol­ogy is against us,” Hoxie said, rec­og­niz­ing that men are gen­er­ally more mus­cu­lar. “But if they can just throw the lad­der right up there, I can find a tech­nique to get around that de­fi­ciency, or what­ever you want to call it.”

Hoxie set­tled on fire­fight­ing later than many who en­ter the academy right out of high school. She earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree at North Greenville Univer­sity and a master’s in ar­chae­ol­ogy in Eng­land be­fore re­turn­ing home and giv­ing her fa­ther’s pro­fes­sion a shot. The ed­u­ca­tion wasn’t a waste — now she won’t have to go back to school to earn a higher rank, while oth­ers

take years of on­line classes be­fore they can be­come chiefs.

Chavis and Triplett don’t give Hoxie any spe­cial treat­ment be­hind the wheel. They play the role of good-hu­mored men­tors, feign­ing panic on ev­ery turn that she might hit the curb. Hoxie trades barbs through­out the ride.

She has lit­tle choice but to as­sim­i­late to what she calls the “brother­hood,” spend­ing five 24-hour shifts in each nine-day work cy­cle sur­rounded by men. But she talks about the re­wards of the job and the re­lief on fire vic­tims’ faces when she ar­rives at an emer­gency dif­fer­ently than her more un­emo­tional col­leagues.

“I feel con­nected to peo­ple, es­pe­cially on EMS scenes. I have that com­pas­sion­ate side,” Hoxie said. “I still have the girl in me.”

On a re­cent morn­ing, on the first shift of a new cy­cle, Hoxie be­moaned the fake eye­lashes she’d had to wear that tick­led her eyes at a fam­ily wed­ding over the week­end. None of the men in the cir­cle could re­late.

KATIE NEL­SON The 9th Street Jour­nal

An­nie Hoxie, 28, has been a fire­fighter for 21⁄ years and 2 wants to some­day be bat­tal­ion chief, the high­est rank her fa­ther, Craig Hoxie, achieved be­fore re­tir­ing from the Durham Fire Depart­ment.

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