Kristen Lodge: Grand Lake woman publishes book about women firefighters |

Kristen Lodge: Grand Lake woman publishes book about women firefighters

Kristen Lodge / Outdoor Adventures
Grand County, CO Colorado

Linda Willing from Grand Lake has published a book about women firefighters across the nation: On the Line: Women Firefighters Tell Their Stories.

She wrote the book to give women firefighters in the United States a face and voice. The book represents the diversity of women in firefighting. Profiles include a woman who started her career at age 16. A graduate student. A former opera singer. There is a painter, a high school science teacher, military veterans, and corporate executives.

Each story shows each woman’s love of the job and commitment to service.

Willing spent 18 years on the Boulder Fire Department and left to become an instructor for the National Fire Academy. She also co-founded the organization called Women in the Fire Service in 1982.

“I wrote this book because it is very important to me that the contributions of all people engaged in firefighting are recognized. In recent years, women have been less visible in many fire departments, even as some of them have gone up to higher ranks. Many fire departments have fewer women as members today than they did 10 years ago.

“This book illustrates the rewards and challenges of the job and represents the diverse group of women who work as firefighters. Women firefighters come from a wide range of backgrounds. This book includes women who work for the largest paid fire departments in the country, as well as women who work as volunteers for some of the smallest emergency services agencies.

“Women firefighters will enjoy reading this book, to see their own experiences reflected in those of others, but I have already found it appeals to a much wider audience,” Willing continued. “A male firefighter friend enjoyed the book mostly because he related to the stories. It reflects the experience of women firefighters, but the stories are not specifically women’s stories; they are fire department stories.”

Read this book if you are considering a career in emergency services. Municipalities, counties, and fire districts could use the book as a recruitment tool. Readers will get a sense of what it means to be a firefighter.

My favorite chapter in the book is about Michele Fitzsimmons.

“It was only natural that Michele Fitzsimmons should become a New York City firefighter. Her grandfather was a battalion chief with the department, and her great-grandfather was a firefighter who responded to the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911.”

Initially her grandfather didn’t encourage her, “Women shouldn’t be firefighters,” he told his granddaughter. Regardless, she pursued firefighting and graduated from the academy in July 2001. Her first fire came two months later, Sept. 11.

After arriving on the scene she feels “an amazing calm in a surreal way. It was such an unprecedented situation. They were just trying to figure out what to do. But I remember feeling that day, I’m really a New York City firefighter.”

Willing ends Fitzsimmons’ story with the grandfather living long enough to see his granddaughter become a firefighter.

“While I was in fire academy, he came out to see me go through all the training scenarios there. That was a really proud moment for him. At one point he said to me, ‘I guess it’s not just a brotherhood anymore.'”

There are two Colorado women profiled in the book: Katherine Ridenhour from the Aurora Fire Department and Brita Horn from McCoy who started a volunteer fire department after Sept. 11.

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