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Badass Woman of the Week: Ashley Rosenbaum

Ashley Rosenbaum – Boise Fire Department

C Shift – Engine 16 firefighter

Since World War II, after the (badass) brave and hard-working Rosies left housework to take over factory jobs, women have continued working silently behind the scenes alongside their male colleagues. As women, we are rarely encouraged to seek out Blue Collar jobs, or jobs that are labor intensive and sometimes dangerous. Women starting careers as police officers, firefighters, or car mechanics is still seen as unusual and often seen and felt as something unattainable. Jobs that require extreme physical strength can seem especially daunting to a young woman with a small frame. Firefighters, for example, endure not only intense and rigorous training, but they have to maintain that strength and endurance in order to do their job properly while keeping a clear head. Because firefighting can be so strenuous, women in the field tend to come in small numbers. One of these rare birds happens to be one of Boise’s own: Ashley Rosenbaum. A firefighter, a wife and mom, and an avid CrossFitter, Ashley spoke with me about her experience working as a firefighter.

Kelsey: Female firefighters seem to be few and far between, especially in Idaho. What made you decide on firefighting? How did you get started? What fire department do you work for?

Ashley: I was hired with Boise Fire Department (BFD) in 2007. When I was hired on there was one other female firefighter who worked for the dept; she was actually the first female hired! (She has since retired leaving me as the ONLY female firefighter for BFD) We have over 250 firefighters with the department. There are only a handful of female firefighters in Ada and Canyon County and I know them all by name. I was introduced to firefighting in my last semester of college at BSU (Boise State University). I was pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Health Promotion when a local training Captain for Boise Fire told me that I should consider testing with them. At the time, I had no idea what a firefighter actually did. I envisioned running into burning buildings, but that was the extent of my knowledge. The training Captain who spoke with me invited me down to the training grounds to watch some new recruits in action. While I was there he let me put on a set of turnouts (firefighter protective gear), carry hose upstairs into the training tower, and participate in an extrication drill. I LOVED it! Firefighting immediately appealed to me because of the physical strength required, mental toughness, and the chance to really help people and make a difference in their lives.In case you are wondering, I did graduate from BSU with my Bachelor Degree in Health Promotion in 2005.

K: Was the training extremely hard? How did you prepare yourself physically and mentally?

A: The first major hurdle in becoming a firefighter is taking the written test. The tests are usually only given once every year or two years and they are competitive. You can have anywhere from 300- 1000 people testing for 6-12 positions. If you are lucky enough to test high enough you will be asked to participate in an oral interview. From there, you will have to pass a physical test and then you will be placed on a hiring list. It can be stressful and many people get frustrated if they don’t get hired right away. I tested for three years before I scored high enough on the written test to move forward. Once you get offered a job you start a 4 month academy where you are routinely tested to see if your skills are progressing. After the 4 month academy you move out onto the line and complete a year of probation. The academy is physically and mentally tough; gear is heavy (upwards of 50 pounds) and you are often outside drilling for 8 hours a day five days a week. It is not uncommon for people to wash out of the academy or at some point during their probationary year.

Prior to my fire academy I lifted weights, ran, and biked. If only I had known about CrossFit back in 2007! I found CrossFit in 2009 and have used that to stay in shape for work (not to mention I just love it!) I haven’t found any other training program that so closely mimics what we could see/feel on the fireground.

I don’t know if you can ever train yourself to be ready for the mentally tough parts of the job. The hardest calls for me are always ones involving children. Firefighters seem to all have a pretty good sense of humor; you have to because we witness a lot of heartbreaking moments. Humor seems to be the coping mechanism most of us use.

K: Do you ever experience fear or anxiety when on the job? How do you remain calm and collected in stressful situations?

A: It would be silly not to have a healthy respect for the dangers we face on the job. Fire is unpredictable, but we are highly trained to deal with various situations. I’ve always been the type of individual to become more focused in stressful situations. There is nothing more satisfying than getting a chance to put your skills and knowledge to use. Of course we never wish for someone to experience a medical emergency or lose a home in a fire, but those are the things we train for. 

K: Have you experienced any challenges working with mostly male firefighters? I have often heard that women who work in fields dominated by men (such as police officers, firefighters, etc) have had difficulty feeling/being accepted by their colleagues. Have you dealt with or felt any hostile feelings towards you? If so, how have you handled those situations?

A: I am lucky because I have really had a good experience working at Boise Fire. I haven’t experienced any outright hostility or negative feelings, but I do feel a little bit of added pressure to do well. This added pressure is mostly self-imposed because I feel like if I don’t do something well it can reflect on my gender and not me as an individual. My crew and I like to joke that I get a lot of stares and double takes out in public because people just aren’t used to seeing female firefighters. 

K: Do you work with any other female firefighters? Has the fire department you work for actively sought out women to try it out? Do they do anything to encourage women to enter the field?

A: I am currently the only female firefighter at Boise Fire Department. As a department we are always actively recruiting candidates that we think would be a good fit; regardless of race and gender. We just don’t see big numbers of women coming out to take the written test. Unfortunately, most women don’t know that this is a career option for them. Women don’t grow up seeing other women riding on fire engines so the idea to apply doesn’t even occur to them. I’m not going to lie; it’s a tough job. It’s both a physically and mentally demanding job, but the rewards are even greater. On a side note, I’m always talking to female CrossFit athletes about testing for the department. They all seem to share common badass characteristics; strength, mental toughness, sense of humor, and they are just all around fun women to be around.

K: I know you have children and a husband at home, how do you balance your family life with work? Do you have to work long shifts? How do you like to relax and enjoy your days off?

A: My husband is also a firefighter and works as a Captain for Eagle Fire Department. Both of us work a 48 hour shift with 96 hours off. We are on different shifts so there is always one of us home with the kids. So basically I go to work for two days, come home and Ben goes to work for 2 days, and then we have 2 days off together. It’s really the only schedule the kids have known so they are okay with it. Wetry to talk on the phone every day when I’m at work and we do a lot of FaceTime. I do miss my family when I’m at work. 2 days is a long time to be gone from them, but I also feel like the sacrifice is worth it. My kids will grow up with a mom who is making a difference and I just want to be a positive role model for them (especially for my daughter.) With a 5 year old, 3 year old, and a 1 year old at home I don’t know that we ever get a chance to relax. We do enjoy working out together, hiking, biking, etc.

Sophomore student at Boise State University double majoring in Sociology and Health Science with an emphasis in public health. Hobbies include Crossfit, cars, food, and binge watching British TV shows on Netflix.
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