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Day in the Life: Firefighters take pride in life-saving mission

Staff Sgt. Megan Payton and Pvt. 1st Class Alyssa Forsythe, firefighers with the 6th MP Detachment, simulate putting out a fire with a 400-gallon quick response vehicle at Allen Stage Field Sept. 9. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Staff Sgt. Megan Payton and Pvt. 1st Class Alyssa Forsythe, firefighers with the 6th MP Detachment, simulate putting out a fire with a 400-gallon quick response vehicle at Allen Stage Field Sept. 9. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: September 12, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 12, 2014) -- Being a minority in any Military Occupational Specialty can seem intimidating to many, but to the active-duty ladies of the Fort Rucker Fire Department, it’s just another day in the life.

There are around 250 active-duty firefighters across the entire Army, and of those 35 are females and seven of them call Fort Rucker their home, according to Sgt. 1st Class Cornelia Waddell, 6th Military Police Detachment military firefighter NCO in charge.

Those firefighters include, Waddell, Staff Sgt. Megan Payton, Sgt. Emily Bradshaw, Pvt. 1st Class Alyssa Forsythe, Pvt. 1st Class Courtney Disbrow, Pvt. Penelope Matosmejia, and Pvt. Danielle Ruege, all of the 6th MP Detachment.

Waddell said it’s an honor to be a part of such a select few, especially knowing that she and her colleagues have earned their stripes, just like everyone else.

“I think this is an opportunity that not a lot of women get,” she said. “It sets you apart from the rest of the military. The (Department of Defense Fire Academy) is very difficult – it’s very physically and mentally testing – and I think for a female, specifically, to be able to get through all of the same standards that the males must complete is saying something. It’s just an honor and exciting, and it’s something to be proud of.”

Regardless of whether a firefighter is male or female, however, Waddell said it comes down to one thing – doing your job.

“Being a female in a male-dominated profession can be tough,” said the NCOIC. “It’s a challenge, and it’s something that you have to push yourself to get through and keep in your mind that you went through the same training as everyone else. At the end of the day, it’s just about you being able to do your job.

“When the bell goes off, it doesn’t matter if you’re male of female,” she said. “That’s just one of the best things for you to focus on and get over any gender issues. It’s the want and drive to continue to be a firefighter.”

Each firefighter has different reasons for wanting to become part of a select few, and for Payton, it was just another way for her to challenge herself.

“I thought to myself that firefighting is the most challenging thing that I could push myself to do in the Army,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about it and I didn’t have any background in it, so I thought why not start fresh and push myself to do something I had never done.

“It was like facing a fear. I had heard the schoolhouse was hard, but it was something I was willing to push myself to accomplish,” Payton continued. “I wanted something new and something that I knew I would have to earn.”

For others, it’s something that seemed to be in their blood.

Forsythe grew up in a Family of firefighters, and although firefighting wasn’t something that she signed up for initially, it seemed fate would have her follow in her Family’s footsteps.

“Growing up with a Family of firefighters gave me the opportunity to see a lot of what they do throughout my life and it always amazed me,” she said. “When I was told I was getting the opportunity to become a firefighter, I was really excited.”

Despite the challenges that firefighters face on a daily basis, the job doesn’t come without its rewards. For Bradshaw, those rewards come in the form of lives saved.

“I think one thing that’s unique about our mission as opposed to other missions, is our mission is 100 percent to save lives and pull people out of danger,” she said. “It’s nice to know that when we go downrange, we’re helping to bring people back.”

Payton said that, for her, it was having the opportunity to train Soldiers realistically, which reflects how they are leading and taking care of their Soldiers.

“Fort Rucker gets most of the incoming Advanced Individual Training Soldiers, so we’re their first line of training,” she said. “I’m able to see them apply their training, whether it’s on a call (or) on the fire grounds, and I’m able to see what I’m teaching them, so they are an image of our leadership.”

Even more so, Waddell said it’s the sense of Family and companionship that they all get from one another that makes the job worthwhile.

“The sense of unity and companionship that you get with everyone that you work with as a firefighter is really amazing,” she said “You really depend on each other and it becomes like a Family. I think that’s one of the most rewarding parts of the job.”

Whether facing diversity or working as a team, Payton said one of the most important things is to believe in oneself in order to accomplish goals.

“I think that we, as individuals, are the hardest on ourselves,” she said. “We beat ourselves up more than anyone else … but if you want something, you have to work for it.”

Bradshaw agreed.

“I heard this saying once – ‘your altitude is directly proportionate to your attitude,’” she said. “If you want to run faster, then you’ve got to get out there and run. The only person that’s going to stop you from doing it is you. You have to be willing to put in the work for it.”

This article was originally published at

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