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Fire Services Offer Myriad Opportunities for Women

Fire departments offer women positions ranging from firefighter to communications liaison, fire inspector and social media strategist, all of which require different skill sets and knowledge.

Krista Butts of the Santa Rosa Fire Department.
Krista Butts of the Santa Rosa Fire Department
Krista Butts
Working at a fire department doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll always be on a truck heading to a fire. It might mean you’re a social media expert, or a training expert, or you’re good at communication or were good in math or science and, thus, you work at fire prevention.

It might mean you’re a woman.

There is no one-size-fits-all for a person in the fire service these days; in fact, diversity is a plus.

“A lot of people think you need to be a firefighter to work for a fire department,” said Krista Butts, community outreach specialist with the Santa Rosa, Calif., Fire Department.

“There are just so many roles and so many important career options that you have working within a fire service or even a specific agency — people don’t understand that.”

That was one message Butts wanted to get across when her department hosted the Women in Public Safety event recently to recruit women for the fire department.

“It’s not being the strongest, it’s about figuring out how to make it happen,” said Santa Rosa Fire Department Capt. Corinne Rickert. “There’s not a cookie-cutter for this profession. We’ve had people 6 feet, 9 inches tall and people 5 feet tall. There has to be some mental fortitude. You have to know that it isn’t an easy job and that people are counting on you.”

In her role as community outreach specialist, Butts’ expertise is communication, and her job is a liaison role between the fire department and the public. But it doesn’t end there. She’s also involved internally with providing information to the department’s firefighters, operational staff, prevention bureau, command staff and especially new recruits.

She joined the Santa Rosa department a little more than a year ago after a decade with Sonoma County Fire and Medical Dispatch. “It’s been a fun role, a smooth transition,” Butts said. “It felt kind of like going from one family to the next family. I’m having a lot of fun and doubling down on my knowledge of this agency specifically.”

She explained her job as helping everyone understand externally what the fire department is and the services it provides, as well as offering the community a lot of education and being present.

She enjoys talking about all the different roles within the fire department, especially when it comes to the benefits of working in the profession.

“I show them what operations looks like, but also give them the opportunity to meet female fire inspectors, the female fire marshal, the admin team members, the community outreach team. And all these things are essential. There’s a spot for everybody.”

Butts explained that when she was younger, she’d be told to “stop playing on your phone or get off social media.” Now, there’s a career in the fire department for that social media expert.

“To have a career, support your family and be able to do social media management and create content and graphic design and being able to implement from a public safety agency is fascinating.”

She said it’s been fun walking people through the pathways to the fire department. “Your personal interests, your personality and the skill sets that you have can carry over to a lot of these jobs,” she said.

Unfortunately, it can still be a tough sell for both men and women, and there is a shortage nationwide of volunteer firefighters for various reasons.

The biggest reason is probably the recent addition of so much training and education that even the volunteers have to get to become firefighters.

“Part of it is the national and state requirements for training,” Rickert said. “It takes more time and effort versus kind of the old-school mentality of ‘we’re ready and willing to be a volunteer.”’

As for why more women haven’t traditionally been part of fire departments, Butts said, “I could write a paper on it, but I think a lot has to do with the cultural or gender roles and the misconception of ability and strength. People really have a hard time seeing themselves in a world if they don’t see somebody like them doing the same thing.”


Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine.