She is not the first in the Decorah Fire Department, but Claire Butchkoski is currently the only female firefighter serving the community. Butchkoski doesn't really see herself as a "gender bender" but does feel that being the only female does serve as a role model for others who might want to venture into something that has a history of specific gender roles.
Decorah Fire Department Chief Mike Ashbacher is pleased to have Claire on the department as one of several new recruits. He says there have been four previous females on the force, including some "real good firefighters." All the previous females left the department because they were relocating to another area. He said that the gender of firefighters has not been an issue in the department, either from a physical training or personnel relationship perspective.
Butchkoski says that being a firefighter wasn't one of those childhood dreams that some kids have, but she says she has long had a strong service motivation. She said that her current venture into firefighting was, in part, due to having a good friend who had a house fire. And then seeing a firefighter license plate just sort of prompted the question of "why can't I do this?" She adds that it was also a way to put some of her recent physical conditioning toward a constructive purpose.
Like the other trainees Claire is working toward her Firefighter 1 status that comes after extensive weekly trainings and testing. The goal is for trainees to accomplish this goal within one year and move off a probationary status. Potential volunteers visit with Fire Department personnel regarding the demands of the job and meet with an "Investigating Committee" that helps sort out for the volunteer and department whether or not the activity will be one that fits for everyone, including family and employers. Firefighters are expected to pass a physical exam prior to beginning and continue with training and physical assessment on a continual basis. Claire says that the physically demanding nature of firefighting is to be assumed, but notes the importance of psychological readiness to handle stressful situations – "you need enough bravado to sign up for something that can be inherently very dangerous, but enough brains not to take unnecessary risks."
Butchkoski says that working with the Decorah Fire Department has been a great experience. Like many other firefighters, she needs understanding from her employer. So, if you see a fire truck rushing through town someday, and happen to wait an extra minute for your latte at Java John's (Claire works there as a barista), you know you are doing your part to support the local fire department volunteers.