Mass. female firefighter-paramedic commands incident, makes history
"A ceiling was shattered and it's a long time coming, and one that we're very proud of," Chief Kevin Gallagher said
By Aimee Chiavaroli
ACUSHNET, Mass. — Full-time firefighter/paramedic Wendy Ashworth made history last week in the Acushnet Fire and EMS Department when she became the first female member of the department to command an incident.
Ashworth, 56, is the only full-time female firefighter in the department, according to Chief Kevin Gallagher. As of Aug. 1, there were 48 employees, 11 of them women including Ashworth. They are on-call firefighters and part-time paramedics and EMTs.
Recent changes that took effect July 1, such as the fire and EMS departments officially merging to combine unions, contracts, and budgets, helped make way for this bit of history, Gallagher said. Ashworth, along with a few others, went from being a full-time paramedic to a full-time firefighter/paramedic and got specialized training to be incorporated into the command system and work firefighter shifts.
On Oct. 10, the department got a call from a fire alarm monitoring company about detectors going off at a home on Arrow Lane.
"We make no assumptions," Gallagher said, adding they can't assume it's a false alarm or will be resolved by the time they arrive. All they know at the time is multiple alarms have sounded.
There was smoke inside the home from a pellet stove that tripped the detector, Gallagher said. The homeowner returned and was able to allow responders into the home before they had to force their way in.
Responders reactivated the smoke alarms and opened a window to get the smoke out.
"You just never know," Ashworth said. "It was a simple fix, but that could've been a structure fire or something more significant."
Ashworth, Gallagher said, "managed the entire incident. She coordinated all the assets that responded and did an extremely good job for her first exposure to being an incident commander."
"She walked right through the process," Gallagher explained, which means assessing the scene to gather information, and based off of that, making a call of what's needed and how the issue can be resolved.
In a comment on a Facebook post by the Acushnet Fire and EMS Department which put Ashworth in the spotlight, Ron Cormier who identified himself as the owner of the property, said "Thank you and congrats."
On Saturday, Ashworth assumed the role of lead paramedic, similar to incident commander, on the scene of a motorcycle crash with serious injuries which turned out to be fatal.
"It's about time that girls are in command now," Ashworth said on Tuesday. She also gave credit to her shift partner, firefighter/paramedic Paul Frysinger.
She has been in the fire and EMS service for 24 years, starting in Rochester where she grew up, she said. She joined the Acushnet department in 2009. Her husband Scott Ashworth is the former Rochester Fire Chief.
"My grandfather was a firefighter, so I think it's in my DNA and I love what I do," Ashworth said, although it's not easy and it's not for everyone.
Wendy Ashworth believes that women aren't built to be firefighters and lack upper body strength, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't go for it, she said. She had to hire a trainer, go to the gym and gain strength because there's no difference between men and women in the fire academy, she said. They're both expected to do the same things.
Gallagher said "A ceiling was shattered and it's a long time coming, and one that we're very proud of."
©2019 The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.