Firefighting is full of challenges, and Amy Meyer, a volunteer at the Port Royal station, is just the type of person to rise to meet them—and then inspire others to do the same.
Born in New Jersey, Meyer studied physics and international relations with a focus on the Middle East at Boston University before a job offer from the federal government to work at the Dahlgren naval base brought her down to Fredericksburg. The seeds of her later firefighting work were first planted up north: she received her emergency medical technician certification in 2005, and EMS work soon became her primary part-time job while in college.
She continued volunteering in Stafford County after moving down to Fredericksburg, even with a busy schedule that took her to Afghanistan on three separate tours. As an intelligence specialist with the Department of Defense, Meyer was based at Bagram Airfield in the eastern part of the Middle Eastern nation each time.
“It was eye-opening for someone who had never been in the military before,” she said. “It really gives you an appreciation for what everyone else goes through.”
It was after Meyer returned from her third deployment that she began looking more seriously at firefighting.
“It never occurred to me to do fire until years (after becoming an EMT) when I met a female firefighter and thought, ‘If she can do that, I bet I can do that too,’” said Meyer.
With that goal in mind, she signed up for the Stafford County fire academy—and fell in love with life on the engine.
“On the fire side, there’s much more equipment, you get to run into burning buildings, you have all these power tools you can use,” said Meyer. “You never know what you’re going to get. And on the calls that really matter, there’s a lot of physical exertion as well as mental exertion that I just find fascinating.”
As a female firefighter, Meyer faced a new set of challenges, including the physical requirements, which can pose extra difficulties for women because of their different build. But Meyer approached these hurdles with a can-do attitude.
“I sometimes have to find the tricks of the trade,” she said. “It’s a cliché, but (you have to) work smarter, not harder.” Learning alternate ways to pick up the hose or manipulate other equipment allowed her to fulfill her duties more efficiently and ensured that she pulled her weight just as well as any other person on the team.
Besides the physical challenges, she noted that she sometimes has to deal with hesitancy from old-timers who aren’t accustomed to seeing a woman in a firefighter’s hat. Although women are increasingly joining squads around the country both as career officers and as volunteers like Meyer, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report that in 2013, women made up only 3.5 percent of firefighters nationwide.
But despite any uncertainty she encounters, Meyer hastened to say that it usually dissolves fairly quickly: “I really think that it just takes a few calls,” she said.
In 2013, in search of a home on the water that would allow her to continue working as an operations research analyst for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Meyer and her husband bought a house in Port Royal, and she joined the town’s fire and rescue squad—and adjusted to yet more new terrain. Because of the town’s size and the squad’s low call volume, instead of reporting to the station for shifts, Meyer has a pager set up at home. If an emergency crops up, she said it takes her only a minute or two to drive around the corner to the station house.
In addition to the physical closeness to the station, Meyer said that she appreciates the friendly atmosphere in the Port Royal squad.
“It’s very easy to think of (the other fire and rescue members) as family … because there are so few of us,” she said. “Everyone is welcoming when you walk in the door.”
In fact, for Meyer, the squad isn’t just metaphorically family—it literally is, because in Port Royal, she made an important recruit to firefighting: her husband. Meyer remembers that before he joined the squad, whenever she received a call in the middle of the night, they would both end up awake for a few hours—she because she was out on the job, he because he was worrying about her. Eventually, he figured he might as well put those hours to good use and joined his wife at the Port Royal department.
“We both work together pretty well,” said Meyer. She said she appreciates that the two can share ideas with each other, and it’s an advantage that they both understand the technical jargon that comes along with the job.
As a female firefighter and part of a husband-and-wife team, Meyer’s path may not be typical—but it’s one she’s more than happy to walk.
“It’s important for me to set an example that anyone can do this,” she said.
It’s important that people make sure their house numbers are clearly visible from the road, Meyer said.
“If you call for emergency services, let them find your house,” she said. And to prevent having to call fire and rescue out, she urged that everyone be vigilant about changing the batteries in their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
“If it starts beeping, do something about it,” she said.