By Liana Jacob
THIS FEMALE firefighter has put out TWO MAJOR FIRES in just one week and is constantly breaking the stereotype that the career is only for MEN – despite having people question if she’s a ‘REAL FIREFIGHTER’.
Firefighter, McKayla Conner (21) from Georgia, USA, grew up with two dads, one of them being her stepfather who is also a firefighter. Growing up with a firefighter dad meant that she spent more time in a fire station than she did in a playground.
Seeing her dad save lives inspired her to follow the same career, however, as she got older she was getting high grades in school and her parents saw huge potential in her. She initially went to university to study medicine but as time went on, she realised she was in the wrong industry. Her low point led to her weight increasing to 13st 13Ib and a UK size 16 to 18.
McKayla moved back home and on her way to school she noticed a ‘volunteers wanted’ sign on the door of her local fire department, she immediately went to the centre and applied. She dropped out of university and started fire academy just two weeks later in May 2018.
She quickly fell in love with the job and in November 2018 she became a full-time firefighter. Just seven months into her job she was called along with her co-workers to put out a fire at a nearby house and had to do the same thing within that same week.
Over time she was working out six days a week to become fitter for her job which helped her shrink to her lowest weight of 9st 12Ib, but after months of putting on muscle she is now 11st 1Ib and a UK 10 to 12.
Even though she has been working in this job for nine months now, she is still faced with sexism from strangers who don’t believe that she is really a firefighter. McKayla says she is constantly trying to break the stereotype around the career of firefighting and wants to show that it is not just for men.
“I was raised by my mum and both of my fathers. I grew up around the firehouses in my area. Growing up, my stepdad was also a firefighter; I spent more time in a fire station than I ever did on a playground,” McKayla said.
“My dad’s co-workers quickly became family, and I loved every minute of it. When I was little, I wanted to grow up to be just like him.
“As I got older, and smarter, my parents saw how much potential I had and that’s when I decided to go into the medical field. I went off to college and realised very quickly that I was miserable.
“I hated it, and I had always loved school before; I reached a low point. I felt out of place and unhappy and I felt as if it wasn’t what I was called to do.
“I felt as if the ‘man upstairs’ had bigger plans for me. I moved home and continued classes here and one day on my way to school I saw a ‘volunteers needed’ sign out in front of the local fire department.
“I literally drove right past the school and pulled into the parking space in front of the 911 centre and applied. The rest is history.
“I started two weeks later, fell in love, dropped out of college and made it a goal to make this my career. I wanted to help people, and I feel like this is where I help the most. I feel like I finally found where I belong.
“Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy getting here. The school was hard, and I went through two fire schools at the same time. Not only was it physically demanding, it was emotionally draining.
“I was overweight and that was something I had to overcome. It was hot, I was tired, I had too many blisters to count. Many tears were shed, but in the end, it was so worth it. It wasn’t always easy, but this is the happiest I’ve ever been.”
McKayla says that she has faced prejudice from strangers and sometimes people who call up the fire department. When she answers the call offering to help, they would ask to speak to a real firefighter and have even assumed she works for the admin side of the job.
“When I tell people I’m a firefighter it’s either hit or miss; most people act like its normal and go on about their day or ask me how I’m liking it,” she said.
“On the other hand, not so much; three times now I have answered the phone at work and when I ask if I can help the caller, they would say, ‘I need to speak to a firefighter’ because they don’t believe me.
“When people ask me what I do and I say I work at the fire department, they ask me if I’m in admin. Trust me when I say being a female firefighter isn’t easy.
“But I was blessed with some pretty great co-workers who very quickly became so much more than that and who treat me just like the rest of the guys, as it should be.
“So, to any girl reading this (or guy) don’t let anything stop you; you can do anything you put your mind to.
“My stepfather is one of my biggest fans; he has pictures of me on the job above his desk at work. He never fails to tell me how proud he is of me and brags about me a lot.
“The best thing about this job is that we are the people who respond to a person on what could be the worst day of their life. I always knew I wanted to help others and I get to do that every day.
“The second-best thing is the family I have gained along the way. Some of these people I’ve met in my career are like the family I never knew I needed. The ‘brotherhood’ is still alive.
“There is still a major stereotype when it comes to the job of firefighting. It’s still widely viewed as a ‘man’s job’. When people think firefighter, they think in shape manly men. They don’t really think about a five-foot-four eleven stone female.
“Women are becoming more common in the fire service and hopefully down the road the job won’t just be viewed as a job for only a man, but a woman’s job too.
“I want people to know that it’s possible to be a healthy and fit version of themselves. It’s possible to reach your goals.
“When people look at my page, I hope they realise that they can do and achieve anything they set their minds too.
“I’ve come a long way and really worked hard to get to where I am. A lot of people tell me it helps them. Then some people ask if I’m really a firefighter.
“Please call your local fire departments to see if there are volunteer opportunities. There is a shortage for volunteers all over the country.”
For more information visit: www.instagram.com/mckaylaconner