Female firefighter is just part of the team

by Rebecca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

4/26/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- Though Airmen 1st Class KJelen Jacobson, or "KJ," may be a woman, she is just one of the guys, joking and laughing with the rest of the team at Maxwell's Fire Department.

She said she's always been around men like her father, a fire chief and paramedic, her two brothers and other fire fighters she calls her "second dads" growing up in the small town of Englewood, Colo. They inspired her to do more than a desk job.

"I've always enjoyed something that I would be able to help people or be a challenge," said Jacobson. "My dad is probably the main one that made me want to join firefighting because I grew up with that."

Jacobson, currently the only female firefighter at Maxwell, felt right at home among the crew, her first duty assignment in the Air Force.

With her dad as a fire chief, Jacobson became very familiar with his station as a young girl. Once she turned 16, she joined the department and later earned her emergency medical technician certification to be a better asset to the team.

Now 20 years old, Jacobson strives to do the same at Maxwell, and works hard during training and drills, learning all she can from fellow crew members and her superiors. She is already a great addition to the team, according to her supervisor, Norman Allard of fire operations.

"She's an excellent firefighter. She's one of the guys and is a big tomboy at heart," he said. "I've been doing this for 38 years and it takes a lot, but she's a good one."

No one at the station gives her special treatment, and that's what Jacobson expected. She sees herself as part of the team and wants to be treated based on her merit and work ethic rather than her gender.

"When I first got here they [staff members] tried to be as respectful as possible because they didn't want me to feel uncomfortable, but once they started to see how I was, they got used to seeing me as just one of the guys," she said.

Training is Jacobson's favorite part of the day since joining the team in August. Usually drills will consist of putting out controlled fires, practicing with equipment, driving the trucks and throwing on gear.

A simulated "burn-house" allows crew members to practice entering and extinguishing a fire. Another training exercise fights a C-130 aircraft fire with the P-19 truck, the vehicle used for airport rescue firefighting.

Jacobson will sometimes drive the crash truck, a vehicle stationed on standby for any aircraft emergencies. She also inspects other vehicles for operational safety, including the pumper truck, which carries water to a scene, and the engine truck, the first truck used for fire or medical calls carrying hoses, ladders and an assortment of tools.

Since her time at the department, she has been on a few calls, one of which was a stairwell fire where she was part of a secondary backup crew.

Being in the Air Force, Jacobson said she has much to look forward to. A future as a pararescue medic initially intrigued her to put her EMT training to use and "help fallen brothers live another day and see their families," she said.

However, after attending the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, in March, Jacobson can also envision herself returning one day as an instructor.

Jacobson's greatest satisfaction is simply wearing the uniform and serving her country no matter what path she decides to follow and grow as a viable asset to the Air Force.

"Being in the military needs to come first, what you stand for and the reasons that you joined," she said. "Everything that's on our uniform, we earn piece by piece. That's just something you got to be proud of."