Fighting fire with fire: Women working outside the box

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March 24, 2017 - 12:00 AM

March is National Women’s History Month.
The 2017 theme honors women who have successfully challenged the traditional role of women in the workplace. Ashley Robb, 32, Iola, is a local woman who has not only challenged the role of women in the paid labor force but also challenged herself to go outside her comfort level.
A former stay-at-home mom, Robb works for the Iola Fire Department, but you won’t just find her driving the ambulance, she does it all.
“I do everything the guys do,” she said. “I am a driver, but when there is not an engineer here I work as an engineer. I drive the engine to the fires and I pump the trucks.”
As an engineer she operates the field equipment. Robb’s job often consists of driving the fire engine to the scene, hooking the truck up to the water hydrant, setting up ladders and operating the hose levers, Lieutenant Jeremy Ellington said. Robb also drives the ambulance and responds to non-fire related calls.
Robb is an EMT and firefighter and she is attending Coffeyville Community College to become a paramedic. An EMT assists the paramedic with whatever they need while a paramedic can start IVs, administer some medications, and can do advanced airways, Robb said.
“You can do a lot more to help,” she said.
While she wanted to be a veterinarian as a youngster, it was her sister, Sara Robb, LaHarpe, who convinced her to go to EMT school at Allen Community College. Robb completed that program in 2012.
“I fell in love with it then and it was my goal to go to paramedic school before I even finished EMT school,” Robb said.
Robb’s children, four boys between the ages of 8 -14, like the idea that their mom saves lives. Between working, going to school, and completing a field internship she is away from home right now 24 hours a day five to six days a week.
“They are not real happy with the amount of time I am gone right now, but I think they are proud,” Robb said.
It was a big adjustment for the entire family while she transitioned from stay-at-home mom to firefighter, but it is a decision that she said her husband, Michael Dickerson, supports. He has encouraged her to reach her goals no matter how much effort required.
Robb’s gender has earned her no breaks. Women and men go through the same training and there are no exceptions made.
“The girls are expected to do the exact same stuff that the guys do, and they do a great job, there is no difference,” Ellington said. “To me, they are just like one of the guys. We are like another family away from our own families.” 
While most of a firefighting crew share a bunk room, Robb prefers her own space.
“They snore, so I sleep in here,” Robb said laughing as she pointed to a small office with a single bunk.
Each member of the firefighting team has daily chores. You will not find Robb cooking in the kitchen.
“I can drive a tractor better than I can cook,” she said.
Robb’s responsibility is to check the supplies on the trucks. Her seniority keeps her from cleaning the bathrooms. There are two men that handle that task.
Robb said her gender has not limited her and although she occasionally receives strange looks, she does not let that bother her. “I am happy doing what I do, and I don’t really care what anybody else thinks,” she said.
Although the general public might find it unusual that she fights fires, she feels completely accepted amongst her male co-workers.
“The guys here have been great.” she said. “I feel like one of the guys. I am not singled out.”
Ellington said he hears comments from time to time questioning whether Robb, one of three women on the team, can do the work of a firefighter.
“You have to explain to them that they (the females) got the same exact training that we got, they are one of us,” Ellington said.
Robb said she feels she can handle any task that the men can do although sometimes she has to do it in a different way.
“Obviously I am not as strong as some of them and so I have to do it differently to get it done and it might take me a little bit longer but I will finish,” she said pointedly. 
Ellington said those little differences do not stand out because everything is done as a team.
“We work off of everybody’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “We help each other all of the time.”
Robb is a self-proclaimed tomboy. Her parents are Robert Robb, LaHarpe, and Terry Harris, Kincaid. She said both of her parents instilled within her a strong work ethic.
“My mom is a very hard worker, she is tougher than any guy I have ever met,” Robb said.
She believes that girls can do whatever they make up their minds to do; a conviction she attributes to her dad.
“If you decide you want to do something set your mind and go for it,” she said.
 
The Iola Register will continue to feature women for the rest of March who are working in positions traditionally thought of as men’s roles. Anyone interested in suggesting a woman they would like to see featured should contact Shellie Smitley at Shellie@iolaregister.com or call 620-380-6805.

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