Women Making History
Jenna Workman felt her calling to become a firefighter at around twenty-five years of age. And what she calls a “spark,” led her to work in fire service.
“To anyone else, it might have just been a kind comment from a friend after a challenging day,” Jenna says. “But the seed had been planted and eventually grew to become a dream I couldn’t imagine ever not accomplishing.”
Jenna was inspired by a friend – an LAFD fireman, who pledged to fight fire with her any day after a GORUCK challenge (a 12-hour team building endurance event).
“His comment came at a time in my life where I truly felt lost – working a job I had little passion for – and I was feeling as if I was watching life pass me by,” Jenna says. “I knew I had to make a change to be truly happy, so when he said those words to me, it was as if a light was turned on and it was the answer I’d been searching for.”
But it wasn’t just Jenna’s friends’ words who inspired her to follow her heart – it was also her parents’ influence. They had instilled in her early the importance of living a purposeful life – one that would require sacrifices and risks to realize her dream.
“As soon as it all came together and clicked that being a firefighter was perfect for me,” Jenna says, “I was driven enough (and stubborn enough) to make it my reality.”
Jenna did not feel that being a female in a male-dominated field was a factor in her progress.
“It didn’t cross my mind that my gender had anything to do with getting hired or not,” Jenna says. “Maybe I was a little bit arrogant at the time, but I knew that I was the right person for the job and I was going to do whatever it takes to get it – nothing and no one was going to stop me.”
That type of determination is what helped Jenna overcome the many obstacles she faced when working to become a professional firefighter.
“I have the best profession in the world, where I look forward to going into work every single shift,” Jenna explains, “but getting to this point was by no means simple. I was turned away, rejected, passed over, let go, over and over again.”
Jenna worked for minimum wage on an ambulance in 29 Palms, California, renting a $300/month shack after quitting her job in Orange County. She knew she was chasing her dream but, at one time, felt like she was going nowhere.
“There was never any guarantee or light at the end of the tunnel for external motivation – it had to come from within,” Jenna says. “If I was any less dedicated at succeeding, it would have been so easy to walk away at various times. The process will break the weak – but it will also strengthen the resolve of the strong.”
“Looking back on every challenge and setback I had,” Jenna continued, “I can honestly say I wouldn’t have changed a thing. The struggles on my journey made the reward that much sweeter and showed me just how badly I wanted this. I’ve been humbled time after time, and I believe I’m the most grateful firefighter at my department. I get to come into work with eighteen of the best guys I know and we get to help people every day. I’m truly blessed.”
And speaking of men, Jenna feels that the differences between men and women firefighters is a positive thing.
“We think, feel and react differently, and that’s more than okay,” Jenna says. “I was never disillusioned to believe I had to be like everyone else to fit in at a firehouse. Each member of my crew brings their unique personality to the table and it’s our differences that challenge one another to be multifaceted as a team. I haven’t yet seen a one-size-fits-all perfect example of what a firefighter should look and think like.”
Jenna cautions women who are considering this line of work to pursue their dreams, no matter what.
“Firefighting is an extremely physically and mentally demanding profession that isn’t for everyone, women and men included,” Jenna says. “If you can do an honest self-assessment, and believe you can do the job well, then let nothing stop you.”