“You Get Dirty”

You Get Dirty Sometimes

Women get dirty sometimes as they progress to leadership roles. It is essential if we want to change the way society sees women in roles that are normally filled by men.

Mae Jemison said, “I don’t want mothers saying, “put that mud down, stop doing that because you are going to ruin your dress…you get dirty sometimes.”

As women move to higher levels of leadership, many find that there are less and less female role models. Female Defender is excited to feature Chief Toni Washington, the Decatur Georgia Fire Chief. She is remarkably the ONLY African American Fire Chief in the country.

Female Defender CEO: Can you tell us about a moment you have gotten dirty?

Chief Washington: I am the Fire Chief now and I take great pride in wearing the dress uniform, but I will never forget where I started.  Getting dirty was the norm. One very vivid memory that I have is of a duplex apartment fire in the heat of July.  That day a woman small in stature was in high demand.  Of the many tasks I had that day, I recall being lifted through a window, crawling in a confined space, extinguishing the fire, pulling ceilings and overhauling. I was soaking wet from perspiration, sheetrock was all over my turnout gear, and unfortunately, soot was in my nostrils.  Those were the days that prepared me, the experience that I needed to help me successfully lead an organization.

Even as Fire Chief, I am often overlooked because I am a woman.

Female Defender CEO: Can you tell us about a time you have been unfairly judged because of your race or gender?

Chief Washington: There have been numerous occasions where patients preferred someone other than me to render emergency medical care to them because of my race.  Currently, even as Fire Chief, I am often overlooked because I am a woman.

Female Defender CEO: Young Women are often drawn to courageous role models like yourself. What recommendation would you give to a young woman who is preparing for the CPAT exam?

Chief Washington: Let’s shatter the glass ceiling that CPAT has created! Women have a lot to offer professionally to the fire service. Practice, prepare and overcome.