“Today we are here for a swearing in ceremony for firefighters, one of the world’s most honored but dangerous occupations.”
It was unusually brisk outside for a late-spring day in April, but as I stood in front of the crowd of my department’s family and friends, I felt nothing but a red-hot iron of disapproval branding me from all directions. I knew my face was burning red, probably in synch with the US Flag hanging on the pole behind us. I tried to keep my eyes to myself, hesitant to meet the disapproving gazes of my soon-to-be fellow firefighters. They didn’t want me there; I knew that. From beginning to end this department consisting solely of men had made it clear to me that–as a woman–I would somehow be unable to do the job I was hired to do.
“When there is an emergency in the community, firefighters are one of the first on the scene,” Chief Preston Davis continued. “Firefighters are there at devastating ravages of fire, motor vehicle accidents, tornadoes, hazardous material incidents, rescue operations, explosions, medical emergencies and many other critical events.”
They had tried so hard, some of them, to push me out and intimidate me away, frighten me out of showing up today. But I’d come. Months of interviews and physical fitness routines and skills tests had finally gotten me here, to where I’d always wanted to be. Screw them and what they thought. I was finally in, and I wasn’t going anywhere despite their best efforts to scare me out the door.
“Firefighters are civil servants as sworn officers following standard policies and procedures of the fire service and standard operating procedures of their departments. They are there to prevent human suffering and death, to stabilize the incident and prevent damages and loss of property.” Chief Davis paused a moment and looked up, his eyes frisking over the crowd. A dark-skinned man in his 50’s with years of experience under his belt and a protective eye for his squad, I liked Chief Davis. From the beginning, he’d been nothing but supportive of my being there. That was more than could be said for everyone else.
Next to me, Jake Finn, a fellow recruit, was visibly sweating. I’d come to find in the short time I’d known him that Jake was a good kid. He was young, maybe twenty-two, with a scale of red hair and freckles that made him look sixteen or seventeen. Finn was a friend, my friend, one of the few people who didn’t whisper nasty comments behind my back or scowl at me in the training room. He was just as new as I was, a rookie breaking into the tight-knit group of this department. If I had no one else, at least I had him.
“Relax,” I whispered to Jake. “It’s almost over.”
I looked away from him and scanned the faces in the room. There was nobody there I recognized, but that was no surprise. My fiancé, Jeremy, made it clear from the beginning that he didn’t support my desire to get onto the squad. Per his opinion, a fire department was no place for a woman. He wouldn’t stop me from doing it, of course, but he couldn’t support me in it, either. So, I had come to the ceremony alone, unsupported by almost everybody but a select few.
I averted my attention back to the chief, who was in the process of introducing our new captain, Tate Becker. Tate was another one of the few that I liked. It wasn’t just his apparent charm and physical appeal though; Tate was a kindhearted man who took his rank seriously. He was patient and compassionate, professional. He didn’t look down his nose at me, and that’s all I could have asked. This was great timing, Tate’s promotion, because the captain of any squad would be the person hovering, directing, and caring for his recruits and team. A bad boss could quickly turn a dream career into a miserable life, but Tate didn’t seem like the kind.
“Today I would like to offer the opportunity for our new captain to swear in the new members of our family,” Chief Davis said, shaking Tate’s hand as he joined Davis at the podium. There was a loud applause, a few whistles. Tate thanked the chief and then turned to face me and the two other recruits. His gaze met mine, and I was pleased to see an expression of satisfaction on his handsome face. I was the first female firefighter ever to be accepted onto the department, and that was something to be proud of; not just for me, but for the rest of the department. I only wished they all felt that way.
“It is a great honor to have this opportunity to swear in these recruits of the Seattle Fire Department,” Tate said. “Jake Finn, Tanner Rey, and Hallie Harper, will you please raise your right hand, and repeat after me.”
I took a deep breath, hoping my voice wasn’t quivering as I repeated the oath.
“I, Hallie Harper, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the State of Washington against all enemies, both foreign and domestic, and I will faithfully and impartially discharge my duties as firefighter of the city of Seattle under the appointment of the department according to the laws of Washington State to the best of my skills and abilities, so help me God.”