DECATUR, Ga. — Two years ago, the Decatur Fire Department made a name for itself when it became the first and only fire department in the country to hold an all-female command.
Today, they continue to hold that title, and last weekend the department celebrated a personal stride on Instagram when every one of their responding fire units had a woman as their fire apparatus operator.
A fire apparatus operator is one of the most vital positions when out in the field. They operate and drive the fire truck and are in charge of all of the equipment at the scene of an incident. This includes carrying and unloading the ladder, providing water through hydrants and hose lines, supervising personnel and more.
Fire Inspector Lashawna Bussey knows this job well as she was one of the apparatus operators on call during this milestone.
“It's definitely something to be proud of when you can have all women get together in a field and just to be seen as equal, you know, to be able to hold that position and if not, do it better than the guys,'' Bussey said.
Over the past ten years, she has worked her way up through the ranks, starting as a firefighter in an Augusta fire department and moving up to be a fire inspector in Decatur.
Although Bussey said she has gotten many opportunities while working at Station 1, she has also experienced many challenges throughout the journey of her career.
“So just immediately when people see us, they already think, you know, ‘What are they doing? They can't do the job.’ And honestly, we're probably stronger than half of the guys here,” she said. “I know how it is. I know we have to go harder than the guys, and unfortunately, that's the reality of it - shouldn't be that way, but that's the reality.”
Firefighter EMT Jazzmin Rullan is currently a trainee with Bussey and she has also had moments of feeling lesser than her male counterparts while on the job.
“My last department wasn't as friendly towards women. I was actually the only woman there,” she stated. “It's like imposter syndrome. You know, sometimes I don't feel like I am a firefighter. Sometimes I feel like I'm faking it, and then I'm like, that doesn't make any sense because I work really hard to be here, just to be a firefighter.”
She believes women should be allowed to dominate in a predominantly male field without feeling less feminine or having to lessen their femininity.
These feelings and experiences plague women in most career fields across the country, and although they exist, when it comes to the Decatur Fire Department, both women praised them for their inclusivity and have never felt like they were on the back-burner just because of their gender.
"I just feel like it's limitless here. It's how you can grow and what all you can do,” Bussey said.
“They've never said I couldn't do something because of my gender or because of my size,'' Rullan added.
Because of this, they know that change is possible and are hopeful to see the many opportunities that the future brings to women in the workplace.
“I do feel like, as time goes and progresses, that it's getting better. You are starting to see a lot of women in the field now,” Bussey said.
In the meantime, she has a tip on how people can make their female colleagues feel more included in the office.
“Look at it as if it was your sister, mother or any female in your family in the service, how you want them to be treated when in the service, that's how it should be," she said.
And she encourages any young woman interested in becoming a firefighter to come and see her at Station 1, she’ll show you all the ropes!
“For all the little girls and little women out there in the world, you can do anything you want to do and be. Don't let nobody tell you anything different!” Bussey added.