Starr McKenna is a 22-year-old volunteer firefighter at Freehold Township Independent
Fire Co #1 and Sea Bright Fire Rescue who also attends Saint Joseph’s University. We interviewed her to understand the challenges and triumphs of managing student life, while also putting her life on the line. Around 10% of women are firefighters and with this small percentage, women can face harassment, belittlement, and microaggressions. When asked why she wanted to become a firefighter, her answer was simple and selfless, “I’ve pretty much always wanted to do something bigger than myself if that makes sense. Becoming a firefighter was just my first step in finding a way to do that.” Starr provided us with insight on what it means to be a firefighter, how woman empowerment goes a long way, and supportive advice for any reader.
What is your experience like as a student and a firefighter?
“Being a student and a firefighter is tough. I found that after I joined the fire service and
had to write out my will as a precaution, as well as who would get my Line of Duty Death
insurance fund, school seemed slightly less important to me. I still did my work and applied
myself, but I found myself getting frustrated with some of the ‘busy work’ that would take up time I could have spent training.”
What are the challenges you face as a woman in a field that is known to be heavily dominated by men?
“I won’t lie, it’s extremely difficult being a female in a male dominated field. Some days, I find myself questioning why I even continue to do it. Other days, it doesn’t cross my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I have met some amazing men and women who not only believe in me, but raise me up when I doubt myself. However, in the same breath I have been told that I am undeserving of the same treatment that my male peers get. I have been belittled and minimized to the point where I have found myself believing the people who choose to treat me that way. I know that they could not be more wrong, but like I said, sometimes the little things add up and weigh a lot heavier than expected.“
How do you deal with the stresses of being a firefighter?
“Dealing with the stresses of being a first responder in general can absolutely be difficult at
times. As cliche as it sounds, I personally just try to not think about it. When a call is over, I leave it at the door and keep moving forward.”
What is the most interesting experience you have had?
“The most interesting experience is tough because after three years, I’ve found myself in a lot of rather interesting situations. I guess I would say the most interesting, and will forever probably be in general the most interesting, is actually going inside of a burning building. The academy does it best to prepare you, but it’s pretty much unlike anything you will ever experience.”
What has been the scariest situation you have been in?
“The scariest experience would have to be walking across a floor that was about to give out
below me in a burning house. Thankfully, my crew and I made our way out before things
escalated beyond our feet going through.”
What is your proudest moment?
“Proudest moment would have to have been the moment after my first fire when I finally felt I had proved myself to everyone who doubted me, even though that is still an ongoing feat.”
What advice would you give to women who want to become firefighters?
“It’s simple, do it and don’t let anyone push you out, regardless of how hard they may want to try. Do what you love and don’t ever settle for less. I think it’s so important to empower yourself, but also empower other women. I could write a novel on the amount of harassment situations I have faced, microaggressions that have been thrown my way, or just down right insults that come from both men and women about what I do or why I do it. People are going to talk no matter what, it’s human nature. The important thing to remember is to never let it cloud your self-image. That is something I have to remind myself of daily.”
Any final advice?
“Don’t ever be afraid to put yourself first and take care of you above all else. Leaving a toxic job or environment does not mean you are a quitter; it just means you finally realized you are the most important person in your life.”