Nov. 17, 2006
By Jessica Cuffman
An Ohio University Southern student recently achieved the rank of captain at a West Virginia fire department -- she is the first woman in the state to do so.
Jan Rader is proud to have achieved captain, but she has mixed feelings about the significance in West Virginia.
“I understand that it’s a big deal here, but throughout the country it’s not. It’s sad that in 2006, West Virginia is just now promoting a woman to the rank of captain,” she said, “San Francisco recently named a woman fire chief and Georgia had the first African-American woman fire chief.”
Today there are more than 6,200 women firefighters across the United States according to the Women in the Fire Service Web site. The first known woman firefighter was an African-American held under slavery by a member of a New York company. Since then, women have made careers out of firefighting, successful all-women companies have formed, and women all across the country have achieved the rank of chief.
Rader decided to become a firefighter after she found herself in a situation where she was unable to assist a woman having a heart attack outside a jewelry store where she worked in Washington, D.C.
“I felt kind of helpless. I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Rader started paying attention to firefighters in different crises and noticed women performing in the typically male-dominated field. Soon after, she decided to become a firefighter herself.
“I don’t regret it for a minute,” she said, “I would love for young ladies to know that they can do whatever it is they put their minds to.”
Rader, a non-traditional nursing student, has been a firefighter paramedic for 13 years. In anticipation of retirement from the department, she returned to OUS so she could continue to help people after she finishes 20 years of service.
“I love my job and I love fighting fire, but it is a young person’s job,” Rader said, “I want to continue doing something that’s going to make a difference.”
“OU provides wonderful opportunities to people from all backgrounds and experiences. It’s a little jewel in Southeastern Ohio,” Rader said.
Jessica Cuffman is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.