Women fighting fires in Florida: Colleagues' support crucial

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Palm Beach Gardens Fire and Rescue

In this Sept. 19, 2020 photo provided by Palm Beach Gardens Fire and Rescue, firefighters lieutenant Krystyna Krakowski, lieutenant Kelsey Krzywada, fire medic Julie Dudley, lieutenant (acting captain) Monica Marzullo and driver engineer Sandi Ladewskipose at their station in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Kodi Cabral/Courtesy of Palm Beach Gardens Fire and Rescue via AP)

Krystyna Krakowski became a firefighter in Florida at a time when there were very few women to work beside or guide her in the service. Twenty years later, she is not only thriving but also recruiting more females into the profession.

Krakowski is one of five women at Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue who made department history last year by working an entire shift with no male colleagues — a feat that went viral on social media. She and her team members say they have been able to succeed thanks to both the support of the men they work with and by pushing through every challenge that comes their way.

The chain saw-and-ax-wielding women note they are held to the same standards as the men, physically and otherwise, and that the public should be aware that men and women of the department work together to help people.

“I’ve worked super hard to be strong from Day One,” said firefighter Julie Dudley. “I still remember being in an academy and the instructor looking at me going, ‘If you want to do girly push ups you can,’ and I was like, ‘Excuse me. No, I’m good. I got this.’”

The firefighters’ success is notable in a profession that is so heavily male-dominated and that has seen numerous lawsuits from women alleging discrimination and sexual harassment in fire departments across the country.

The day they worked the all-woman shift, they were encouraged and cheered on by the men of the Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue.

“Even our battalion chiefs sent us a message: ‘Good luck, ladies, all eyes are on you today. Show ‘em what you got,’” Krakowski said. “It was exciting to say that every position was filled by a female. ... We played every role. We’re capable. We’ve made it.”

It wasn’t always easy, however. Even some of the women on the history-making team had to overcome prior obstacles. In the fire department where she previously worked, Krakowski says she was the target of a hazing. She said fellow firefighters awoke her with an airhorn, held her down and zip-tied her hands and legs. When the incident came up on a radio show, Krakowski said she felt compelled to call in because comments from the public were so awful.