- Associated Press - Sunday, May 21, 2017

GLADEWATER, Texas (AP) - Allie McDonald said she’s always wanted to serve her community.

“I just really want to help people,” she said. “We’re the ones who go out there if anybody needs help. I mean, police are important just like we are, but we see people and help people on their worst day.”

The Longview News-Journal reports McDonald is the first woman to be hired by the Gladewater Fire Department since it was founded in 1952. She started working for the department as a full-time firefighter in April.

“I’m excited. All these guys are great; they’ve welcomed me with open arms,” McDonald said. “I’m just another firefighter that’s wanting to help people, that’s wanting to learn, that puts their all into something just like all these guys that are already here.”

Capt. Nathan Hamilton said his department hasn’t had a significant number of women apply, which is why McDonald is its first woman firefighter.

“There’s never been anything against it,” Hamilton said of female firefighters. “We just haven’t had a lot of females come out to test. I’ve been here probably six years, and I’ve maybe seen two come through.”

A dearth of women firefighters isn’t uncommon in departments across East Texas. For example, Longview employs three women out of 169 total firefighters, according to Fire Marshal Johnny Zackary. That’s less than 2 percent.

Hamilton said the department’s application and interview process is nondiscriminatory and judges all applicants similarly based on their knowledge of firefighting tactics, leadership and physical agility.

Ms. McDonald came through and did really well on the physical agility test, and she did really well at the interview, so that put her at No. 2 on our hiring list,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said a selection committee interviews applicants and ranks them based on confidence, knowledge and experience. Each applicant then must complete a physical agility test that determines whether they are fit enough for the job.

“It’s just a part of a firefighter’s job,” Hamilton said. “You have to be pretty fit, pretty strong. … As far as being female, she wasn’t graded any differently than a male.”

McDonald, of Diana, is a staff sergeant in the Air Force Reserves and has been in the military for about five years. She said she knew she wanted to become a firefighter several years ago.

“My inspiration came from God,” McDonald said. “The verse John 15:13 is one of my favorites. I want my son to be proud of his mom. I want my family to be proud and for myself to be proud of what I do and did in my life.”

McDonald said she earned her Texas fire certification this past summer and her EMT basics certification in January, which allowed her to apply with the Gladewater department.

“It’s a great fire department from what I’ve heard,” McDonald said. “They’re really close-knit; there’s a great chief here, great captains. They just run a great program here.”

The Gladewater Fire Department has 18 staff members, including part-time employees. Hamilton said the department tries to hire new firefighters about every six months or so to keep the department up to date.

“Everybody’s excited about this,” Hamilton said of the department’s first female firefighter. “It kind of shows a little bit of progression in the fire service when you make a change or have someone a little different come in.”

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Information from: Longview News-Journal, http://www.news-journal.com

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