- Associated Press - Sunday, March 5, 2017

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Standing a head shorter than most of the Fire Station No. 3 crew, firefighter Jennifer Schmidt nevertheless feels like she’s one of the guys.

Above all, Schmidt likes to be busy and she enjoys helping people. The high call volume at station No. 3 takes care of both.

Schmidt is the second female firefighter in Norman’s history and the first in decades to pass the challenging physical test and make it through the academy, The Norman Transcript (https://bit.ly/2lTnLdv ) reported.

“I didn’t apply to be the only female or to be singled out,” Schmidt said. “I love to help people. I know what it feels like to have the world crashing down around you.”

Ironically, Schmidt’s personal tragedy ignited her desire to become a firefighter.

“I first got interested in it in 2007,” Schmidt said. “I used to be a jockey. I went home for the holidays and we had a really bad house fire and lost everything - my dogs and everything.”

Schmidt said the firefighters who responded to her house fire were so genuine and caring, that they made a memorable difference in her life.

“It took a while to get over my fear of fire after that, but I wanted to be in a position to help people in their time of need,” she said.

As a female jockey in a field dominated by men, she knows what it’s like to be a minority in a physically challenging career.

“I anticipated there were going to be some challenges being female,” she said. “None of my family is in the fire department, so it was all new territory for me.”

But she wasn’t completely alone. The Oklahoma City Fire Department has several women firefighters, one of whom attends Schmidt’s church.

“I think she was the third in OKC,” Schmidt said. “She goes to my church and has been awesome in offering tips and suggestions.”

Schmidt graduated the academy Nov. 10. Her parents came from Ohio, bringing her young niece. Several church friends were there, as well.

“It’s huge that my parents were so supportive,” Schmidt said. “I wasn’t sure how they would feel about it when I told them I got the fire department job.”

Schmidt’s parents had been concerned when they learned she was going to be a jockey, a high-hazard physical job. Schmidt rode race horses for 15 years before deciding enough was enough.

“I walked away from some things I shouldn’t have been able to walk away from,” she said.

She was working for an ambulance service in Midwest City when a paramedic told her about the Norman job.

Norman Fire Chief Travis King said in the 21 years of his service with NFD, no female applicants have made it past the physical agility test, a precursor to the interview round for admittance into the academy. Standards are the same for all firefighters, regardless of gender.

“We have a baseline standard for our physical agility tests, and that’s based on a state standard,” King said. “You have to have a certain level of physical ability to get the job. That baseline test says you’re physically fit enough to get into the academy.”

King said Schmidt has great endurance.

“We need people with endurance, and we need people who are strong in areas; that’s what makes a team,” he said.

Elvis, the 150-plus pound fire department dummy, was one of the biggest obstacles Schmidt faced during her physical test.

“When I went down for the show-and-tell day, I wasn’t worried about anything except picking up Elvis,” she said.

Picking Elvis up is a requirement to qualify. Using her wits, Schmidt figured out how to leverage the dummy onto her back and lift him.

Now, Schmidt is just one of the guys at Fire Station No. 3.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “I absolutely love it. I’m so happy I’m in the position I am. All the guys have been great, as far as teaching me and letting me learn. It’s been a wonderful experience. It’s like having a family here in Oklahoma.”

Working 24-hour shifts the team gets close.

“We joke around and tease each other and have a good time,” she said. “My cooking is definitely getting better.”

Working at busy Station No. 3 has been a boon, in her opinion.

“I’ve gotten to see and do quite a bit there,” Schmidt said. “I really enjoy that station. We’ve had grass fires and residential fires and car wrecks.”

Her medical training is a plus for the team, King said. In 2016, NFD received more than 17,000 total calls, and about 67 percent of those were medical-related.

During her short tenure, Schmidt helped fight the fire at the old Falls Elementary School.

“I got to see and do so much stuff,” she said. “We were there all night long. I was exhausted on Sunday. I was wore out, but I learned a lot that night.”

She fought a grassfire on Cedar Lane Road.

“We were the first ones on the scene,” Schmidt said. “I was with my captain on the brush rig, and we just jumped right in.”

The learning has been intense, but she had an inner peace fighting those fires.

“I felt like I was finally on the path that God intended for me,” she said.


Information from: The Norman Transcript, https://www.normantranscript.com

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