For Tiffany Foster and Jacqueline Trask, becoming firefighters was not about breaking glass ceilings or tearing down ‘No Girls Allowed’ signs. Both women found their calling in saving lives, and to them, their gender has nothing to do with their jobs, even though they are currently the only women who hold the rank of firefighter at the Baton Rouge Fire Department.
Originally from Amite, Foster, 28, went to Amite High School and spent her collegiate days playing for the women’s basketball team at Southern University. She grew up thinking she would become a basketball player after graduation.
Despite being a tall, lean athlete, Foster struggled with the Fire Department’s physical test in 2013, which required her to complete an obstacle course in less than 11 minutes. The first time she took the test, which included hauling heavy equipment such as hoses and ladders, and running upstairs with a dummy, she was close to the finish line, but did not meet the time requirement.
“I knew it was going to be physical,” Foster said. “After I failed the physical test, I just trained harder and fought through all of the assumptions and just didn’t give up. I came back and did what I had to do.”
Foster ramped up her workout regimen and took the test again, this time finishing in about eight minutes.
“I’m just getting started, still learning, but I love this job,” said Foster, who became a firefighter last April.
Trask, 56, is originally from Baton Rouge, graduated from Scotlandville Magnet High School and also attended Southern University. Trask has always been dedicated to helping people and served during the Gulf War. She’s been a full-time firefighter since June 1988.
“At one point when I was younger I was interested in becoming a firefighter,” Trask said. “I was really inspired by my cousin’s husband who worked here and is now deceased. He pushed me into it, but helping people has been something I’ve always wanted to do and to save them and make a difference gives me great pleasure.”
Trask and Foster recall the first time they put on their fire gear.
“My first one, I was kind of nervous, but once you get on your gear and get there, it’s like an adrenaline rush,” Foster said.
“The first time was the third day on my shift, we had this fire over on Kingfisher, and we had to suit up,” Trask said. “It was like six kids, and we were not able to save some of them, and the hardest part was one of the parents I went to high school with [was in the fire].”
Now, Trask is entering the next phase of her life: retirement.
“It’s time for me to start a new chapter of my life, but I’ll never forget my brothers and sisters here at the fire department,” Trask said. “I plan on enjoying what I’ve worked for: travel, more time with family and friends and enjoying life.”
Through her experience as a firefighter Trask learned many things and made lifetime friends through the bonds of fighting fires, responding to first aid calls and just meeting with the general public. It was that sense of family that always stood out for Trask, and she did not feel restrictions because of her gender when beginning her firefighting career.
“I didn’t really get any pushback, you always come into a situation where they fill certain jobs that you can handle, but once you prove yourself, they don’t look at it as men and women, they look at it as brothers and sisters,” Trask said.
Trask feels that society is progressing toward viewing firefighting as a career for both genders.
“Over the years, we’ve had other females come in, but the department itself is looking to hire more females,” Trask said. “We’re working harder and harder to bring in more females into the job. It’s not just firemen anymore; it’s firefighters.”
Curt Monte, Chief of Public Information at the Baton Rouge Fire Department thinks they should be role models for young women.
“Most think this is a job for just men, but we actively recruit females to the job. Jackie and Tiffany both have shown what stride it takes not to give up, to work hard.”
Foster agrees with Trask that there aren’t gender barriers that would prevent young women from pursuing a career in the fire service.
“If this is what you want to do, just put your mind to it and don’t give up till you get it done,” Foster said. “Basically, just get out of thinking that this is just a male job. They just need a bit of encouragement.”
“It’s just a matter of going out and make contact with them, let them know this is something they can do if they want to do it, and once they make it up in their mind that this is what they want to do, then never give up,” Trask said. “The only thing I faced early on was that females are not physically fit to do the job, but Tiffany and I have proven that to be a myth.”
“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Foster said.
“She’ll do well,” Trask said. “I have confidence in her.”