There are only two women who work for the Johnson City Fire Department. At 29 years old, Kaitlin Asbury is currently the only female firefighter. She’s navigating a career working in old fire stations that only have one bathroom and where being in top physical shape is a requirement to keep up.
Raised in Oak Ridge, Asbury attended East Tennessee State University and received a degree in physical education. She has been with the Johnson City Fire Department for about four years.
1. What is your job with the fire department?
So, I’m a firefighter. So, I’m the lowest and above me would be the driver and then our company officer, which would be a lieutenant. On a medical call for example, my job function is to grab the medical bag. I usually take vitals, the driver has a clipboard and takes patient information. If we’re on a house fire or something like that, if we’re first in I’m going to be the person that’s pulling the first hose off the truck and actually go inside.
2. What is your favorite part of the job?
I think it’s just serving the community and being able to help other people. I think it’s important. People in general and myself included, I can be selfish at times and I really have to try and humble myself and give back to people because I think that’s what life is all about — giving back other people.
3. What are some of the challenges of being a firefighter?
Sometimes I think where I am small — when we have bigger patients, I have to know where my boundaries are physically. Being able to ask the guys (for help). And I think some of the time they know, but (being) willing to be humble enough to say ‘I think I don’t have this.’ I think some of the other challenges are where we are so diverse is where it’s rescue, medical calls, fire calls, it’s keeping up on that training to be prepared to do those jobs. I think in most jobs you just have one area to focus on. We have several different areas to focus on and being able to keep up with what’s new medically.
4. You work 24-hour shifts. Does that affect your personal life a lot?
I think it works well for me personally but I don’t have the family and that sort of thing. I just have a girlfriend and, you know, it’s kind of nice because it puts those boundaries when we first started dating. We can’t see each other all the time so it kind of made that time to where you can miss the other person. It’s nice. I think the only thing I could say sometimes that is a downside for is sometimes you don’t sleep all night. ... That would be my only negative for me. I really like sleep.
5. What is it like working with all men?
It’s different. So, before I worked in food service where it was a mix and so now it’s kind of the complete opposite where it’s all guys. And I like it. I think that the guys do a good job and I do a good job of keeping boundaries because at (the station) there’s just one bathroom. So they actually put up ‘occupied’ signs.
It’s been fun. They’re comical because I’m not their wife I’m kind of like their work wife. They’re like “I’ll let you do something stupid and I’m not gonna stop you. This is gonna be funny.”
5. Did you ever feel like you were treated differently because you’re a woman?
Now that I’ve been there, It’s been OK. I think at first they were a little reserved and kind of wanted to see who I was and I think there was a lot of pressure to see if I could do the job, you know? They really wanted to see what I was capable of and I think there is a high expectation for a woman to do good if not better than the men, if that makes any sense. You really have to put everything out on the line.
You just adapt. I think that’s what it comes down to you just kind of get comfortable. It’s like a family outside of home and it's really nice.