Firefighter hopes to inspire other women to join team

Published 12:09 am Sunday, September 4, 2016


NATCHEZ — She’s the first woman to suit up for the Natchez Fire Department in at least 15 years, but 19-year-old Savanna Sanchez hopes she’s not the only one for long.

The Woodville native has been on the job for two weeks and hopes to inspire more women to become firefighters in the area.

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Other women may feel they are capable of succeeding at building a career as a firefighter, Sanchez said, but are hesitant to join a field traditionally dominated by men. Others may want to become a firefighter, but feel they are not capable of the demanding job.

“Maybe if they see me out there, they’ll know they can do this as well,” said Sanchez, a 2015 Wilkinson County High School graduate. “You never know what you can do until you try it.”

A firefighter’s job is about hard work and dedication, Sanchez said, not gender.

“No. 1, you have other people you need to worry about, and it’s about team work,” she said. “It’s kind of on the physical side. We do a lot of exercising and running. I think it’s also about being a leader and being able to logically think about situations.”

Fire Chief Aaron Wesley said Sanchez shows promise as a new recruit and has impressed him with her work ethic and preparation.

“All the guys say she’s one of those type of people that if you ask her to do something, she’s going to do it,” he said. “She’s a team player.”

In high school, Sanchez ran track and was in JROTC, among other activities.

“I really think with her past with track and training, that put her right in line to come on at the fire department,” Wesley said.

It was boot camp or the fire academy for Sanchez.

“I had been considering joining the military, but (becoming a firefighter) was an option I looked at for a few years. In a sense, they’re kind of the same. (Firefighting) seemed like something I would enjoy and would get to help people and get to save people and their property.”

Sanchez is currently a student at Alcorn State University and plans to transfer to the University of Southern Mississippi after this school year to finish her degree online. Sanchez is currently studying agricultural economics, but will shift to industrial engineering technology, focusing on logistics.

“(I’m) not certain of what I’ll use my degree for, but I plan to make a career out of working at the fire department,” Sanchez said.

The welcome at the department has been warm, Sanchez said. In fact, Sanchez says she’s received nothing but support since deciding to become a firefighter.

“I think most people know me and know that I am outgoing and like to try new things,” she said.

Wesley said he promotes equality and diversity at his department and welcomes anyone willing to put in the hard work to become a firefighter.

“It’s based on your skills and your personal ability, not whether you’re male or female,” he said.

The Natchez Fire Department is currently looking to hire firefighters to bring the department more in line with expectations set out by the Mississippi State Rating Bureau in order to maintain its fire protection rating.

Wesley said he gives anyone considering becoming a firefighter the same advice, man or woman.

“I would encourage them to follow their heart,” Wesley said. “When you come into fire service, it’s very demanding of you physically. Male or female, you have to be prepared for that. If you’re thinking about fire service, start training. There’s nothing you can’t do, if you’re prepared for it.”