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Mother and daughter battle blazes — and stereotypes about firefighting

Author: Megan Yoder Published: 7:05 PM CDT June 9, 2019 Updated: 7:05 PM CDT June 9, 2019

Jacqueline thought she was too old to become a firefighter. People questioned Jalisa because she’s a woman. So they trained together to beat the odds.

Jacqueline Pinnix was surprised when her daughter told her she wanted to become a firefighter.

Jalisa Pinnix, 28, had never expressed interest in any careers related to the medical or emergency services fields. But growing up, Jalisa always admired her mother, who worked as an EMT. Jalisa used to brag about her mom's job racing across Washington, D.C. in an ambulance.

The elder Pinnix has always enjoyed caring for others, previously working as a nursing assistant and helping family members when they were ill. She was working on the ambulance when Jalisa first became interested in the field.

But Jalisa, to her mother's surprise, decided to pursue an even more intensive position as a firefighter, which required physical tests and extensive training. Not everyone was convinced it was the right move -- people doubted Jalisa's abilities because of her gender.

“There were a lot of people telling me, 'You shouldn’t be doing firefighting, you’re so small, or you’re a female, there’s a lot of men that do that job,'” she said.

Women like Jalisa are in the minority in the DC Fire and EMS department. Only 188 of the 1,800 firefighters are women, and only 23 serve in officer roles out of 471, according to a department spokesperson.

But a few female firefighters are starting to move up the ranks in the department. Recently, D.C. Fire and EMS promoted two women to the high-ranking position of battalion chief -- only the third and fourth women in the department’s history to reach that position.

Women firefighters aren't outnumbered just in D.C. Fire departments nationwide are also primarily made up of men. More than 90% of other occupations have more women workers than does firefighting, according to the Women in Fire trade organization. In 2017, only 4.5% of career firefighters in the U.S. were women, according to a report released in 2019 by the National Fire Protection Association.

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