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Orlando's Longest-Serving Female Firefighter Retiring

Orlando's Longest-Serving Female Firefighter Retiring

The Orlando Sentinal via YellowBrix

October 03, 2010

Barbara Skees, 57, is retiring from Orange County Fire Rescue this month as the agency’s longest-serving female firefighter.

Skees will have spent 30 years and one month with the department when she retires Oct. 28. During that time, she’s gone from one of a handful of women working in the field to one of many – and inspired her son to follow in her footsteps.

“In a male-dominated career, she came in and she has succeeded,” said fire rescue Assistant Chief Jeff Holton. “She has not just succeeded in her own right, but she has been a good example for other women.”

As she prepares for her last day behind the wheel of one of the county’s fire trucks, Skees spoke to the Orlando Sentinel.

Q: What led you to join the fire department?

A: I was curious about the type of job they did. I went and signed up for the class at Seminole Community College. I loved it. I went and got my EMT.

There was one other female in my class. We were the first that I know of in Central Florida.

Q: How did the men respond to you?

A: Actually, I had a wonderful experience. I didn’t want to go in and play the feminine card. I wanted to do my share and I always wanted to pull my own weight…I didn’t want to go in and make any waves.

Q: How did your family respond?

A: They were kind of shocked at first. Once I was on with the department, they were very proud.

Q: Did management treat you differently than they did the men you worked with?

A: They didn’t have a problem with it. I never had any problems. It was always a positive experience for me.

Q: How has the department changed throughout the years with regard to female employees?

A: I don’t think there’s a distinction there between men and women. [The department is] tough to get in. They have strict regulations. You have to pass a physical ability test. If the girls can pass that, it’s not a problem.

Q: Did you reach out to other young women as they joined the department?

A: I was a lot harder on the women sometimes. I worked hard to get where I was. I wouldn’t want women to come in and be complaining and whining and make what I worked so hard for even harder.

Q: What are your days like?

A: Medical is 80 percent if not more of our job. I drive a fire truck every shift. I’m out there. I do not want a desk job. I love our 24 hours on, 48 hours off. I’m glad I’m at a busy station. I tried a slow station and went crazy.

Q: How has the agency changed in the past 30 years?