03/18/17 — Women firefighters value role

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Women firefighters value role

By Ethan Smith
Published in News on March 18, 2017 11:47 PM


Gigi Eason does a check of the water pressure gauges on the fire truck she is charged with maintaining and driving during her shift at the Goldsboro Fire Station on Center Street.

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Goldsboro Fire Department Assistant Capt. Lisa Johnson speaks with members of the Goldsboro Fire Department's Explorer Post 1881 during an evening meeting. Johnson takes an active role in Explorer Post 1881 with a goal of not only making them potential firefighters but also good citizens.

Gigi Eason always wanted brothers.

She grew up being one of five girls in her house.

And when she joined the Goldsboro Fire Department 28 years ago she got a handful of them.

Eason is one of two women on the Goldsboro Fire Department -- she is the only female fire engineer.

"I treat them like my brothers and they treat me like I'm their sister," Eason said. "They get me to cook for them and then after I cook for them they talk junk to me, and then I say I'm not gonna cook for you no more, and then I'm cooking again, you know, and we joke and carry on like that to make the day go by fast."

But when a fire call comes out, it's all business.

Eason's job as an engineer means she drives the fire truck to and from scenes, makes sure everything that needs to be on the truck is there and gets everything in working order.

When Eason joined the department in May 1989, she was one of three women. Only one of the others on the department when she was hired -- current Assistant Chief of Training Lisa Johnson -- remains with the outfit today.

"It was sort of challenging, because to me I felt like when I first came in it was like being a female, 'Is she going to be able to pull her weight?,'" Eason said. "That's something I felt like I had to prove. Would I be able to prove my way?"

And prove herself she did.

Both Eason and Johnson say they have not faced discrimination because they are female, nor were they looked at differently through the years because of their gender.

All that mattered was whether or not their work was up to snuff.

When Johnson was first hired onto the department in June 1983 -- she left in 1986 for one year before returning -- there was only one other female firefighter.

She, too, feels like she gained an outfit of brothers by being a woman firefighter.

"I grew up with three brothers, and when I came here I've kind of just felt the same environment," Johnson said. "I did not face any hostile environment from being a female working here. I read some places have been pretty bad, but that has not been my experience here at all."

Johnson realizes she likely doesn't make everyone happy all the time -- bosses and managers rarely do -- and she's OK with that.

"If they say anything behind my back I may not know it, but I have not encountered anything that would say this has been a hostile environment. It never was like that. I have received respect from the men that I work with," Johnson said. "If anybody were to say something I was not comfortable with, I stated what I felt and that was never an issue again."

And with Eason and Johnson sitting in positions of authority within the department, they are automatic role models for someone younger who they both work with -- Daeja Hutcherson.

Hutcherson, 15, is part of the department's Explorer Post 1881, in which she learns the ins and outs of firefighting and valuable life lessons.

She does not want to be a firefighter when she's older, but Eason and Johnson serve as strong role models for her to emulate as she pursues whatever career she takes on.

"It's very important because when I see Gigi (Eason) or Chief (Lisa Johnson) it's like -- they're the only women, and I'm the only girl in the Explorer Post, so I kind of feel like we can relate a lot more, and I feel like I can relate a lot more to them than I can the guys," Hutcherson said.

With Eason and Johnson as role models, she gets to see Eason command a truck and handle tense situations, while she learns from Johnson as she makes things run smoothly for new hires and handles training for both rookies and veterans alike.

But while what Eason and Johnson do is critical to the department's success, Eason said she doesn't always feel like people give the female firefighters the recognition they deserve.

Though Eason remembers her first big fire, first burned body, first victim rescue, first firefighter down event -- just as any other firefighter who had been through similar things would -- she says people are always surprised to learn Goldsboro has women firefighters.

"I've been doing this job for 28 years and I still can go out and I hear people say, "Well, I didn't know Goldsboro had a female firefighter," Eason said. "I've been doing it 28 years. Every time we go out, people speak to me. People on the truck say, 'I swear Gigi, you know everybody in Goldsboro because they speak to you.' And then sometimes I just speak to people anyway. And then it just makes me feel a certain type of way when I've been doing it for 28 years and they're just like, 'You've been doing it how long?' And I say 28 years and they say, 'I've never seen you, I didn't know Goldsboro had a female firefighter.' Yep. 'And you drive the truck?' Yeah I drive the truck."