The women of Miami Dade Fire Rescue are on a roll. This October Flight Medic Susana Oatmeyer performed an open water hoist in Florida Bay to retrieve a victim from a capsized boat; Rescue Diver Brandy Paternoster and Sal Hernandez rescued a truck driver trapped in a canal; and TRT Firefighter Maggie Castro placed 1st in the US and 6th in the World with MDFR’s Blackheart Extrication Team. All three firefighters are performing in certifications that hold few women.
The fire service is over 96% male. Women have begun breaking into suppression, but even fewer perform in specialties. But, at MDFR, every specialty is open to anyone if they pass training and have the proper pre-reqs. This is why I love my department. This is why, despite our trials and tribulations, my loyalty will never die. Miami Dade Fire Rescue gave us a chance. And the men of MDFR (not all, but enough) took the time to teach us everything they know.
MDFR is unusual in that we have more women than other departments. At one time, we had the fifth most women of any department in the US. Our numbers have dwindled, but after twenty years women are entering and excelling in specialties like never before. It only goes to show what women are capable of if you give us a chance. We all deserve a chance to prove ourselves, to learn and perform. A chance is what we deserve, but the rest is up to us.
For me, Firefighters Oatmeyer, Castro, and Paternoster are models of inspiration. They remind me what is possible. If only I knew this when I started eleven years ago. I remember back then standing in the truck bay as the sun rose over Homestead. I was going over extrication tools. My Lieutenant asked me if I was going to become a Technical Rescue Technician. I was a rookie, unsure of myself, and I still hadn’t figured out my capabilities. I told this LT, now a Chief, that I didn’t think I was big or strong enough for TRT! God, the very thought of this conversation turns me bright with shame. Looking back, it sometimes seemed the men around me had more confidence in my abilities than I did. At that time, the only extrication I had performed was one day in the academy and it kicked my butt. But, after working in a battalion with TRT instructor, John Rojas, and getting a few wrecks under my belt my confidence grew. Now, I look at Maggie Castro and shake my head at myself. I’m glad she went for it. I’m glad she didn’t let insecurity hold her back. I don’t know the numbers but I’ll bet there weren’t many women competing in the US and World Extrication competition. Maggie is a single mom with two kids but she went for her dreams and didn’t let anything stop her.
Flight Medic Oatmeyer has two little boys. I remember when she came back to the helicopter after her second pregnancy. I’d been holding her spot at Air Rescue and when she returned she worked extra with me while she got up to speed. Susana had a new baby at home but came to work for 24 hours and trained all day, pumping breast milk in between calls and hoists. She was determined to breast feed her son for a year. I know she will cringe at my sharing this, but she has always shared her strength and knowledge with me. There’s a reason I’m writing about her experience. There are no excuses. We can do it. We have the endurance and ability. Give us a chance and we’ll run with it.
Because Together We Are Stronger!