Women Making History
Rachel Pierce knew as a young girl that she wanted to be a firefighter. In fact, her initial attraction was the thought that she might work with Dalmatians. As she became older, she joined the Explorer Program, which gave her the necessary passion and desire to go further with her career choice.
“I joined the Explorer Program when I was 16, as a recommendation from a family friend who was a police officer,” Rachel recalls. “The first day, they let us barrel fight and the lead fireman yelled at me for being small and having ‘the arms of a nat.’ He taught me how to manage the hose and to be aggressive. I left that day full of excitement and enthusiasm, knowing I was going to be a Firefighter.”
Once Rachel was firmly convinced that Firefighting was what she wanted to do, she put her heart and mind into actualizing that goal. To Rachel, being a woman was not really a factor in her decision.
“I never focused on being a female or looked at myself as being different than other explorers or candidates,” Rachel says. “I just gave 100% of what I had to the process of getting hired – and just focused on that.”
Her journey was not easy; It required her to make many sacrifices. After high school graduation, Rachel was promoted to Cadet, where she worked at the FEMA warehouse.
“The job paid very little, so I would lifeguard from 0400-0730, go to the FEMA warehouse to work, then attend college classes in the afternoon,” Rachel says. “They were long days, but worth it.”
Rachel received her EMT, Basic, Intermediate, and went to School for her Fire Science degree. At age 19, she became a Wildland Firefighter for the United States Forest Service, spending seasons on an Engine Company and Helitack. During the off season, she worked part time for the USFS mapping trail systems, and also worked as a Firefighter/EMT for the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. She was hired by the Las Vegas Fire and Rescue in 2006 at the age of 21.
She has spent most of her career working in Downtown Las Vegas and, in 2015, she was certified in Technical Rescue, and subsequently promoted to Engineer. She is a member of the Peer Support Team and even started the therapy dog program in 2017.
“My biggest challenge is balancing the job with my personal life,” Rachel says. “I am married to an amazing man who is an Engineer/Paramedic for a neighboring Department, we have a three-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter. Managing my time as a wife, a mother, and the fire department has been difficult. I have learned to say no when it didn’t work for my family, and to prioritize what I could.”
And while Rachel never felt like being a female in a male-dominated field was a major issue, she does acknowledge the differences among the two genders.
“I feel like men have a natural confidence, whereas women … we tend to overly criticize ourselves,” Rachel explains. “A benefit to that is that we work tirelessly to earn respect and prove our worth, to the department and to ourselves.”
Rachel’s advice to other young women considering Firefighting as a full-time career:
“Just take it for what it is, don’t expect people to change who they are for you, have fun, and enjoy the atmosphere of station life, Rachel says. “Listen more than you speak – that’s good advice for any new hire and in life in general. Work hard, be nice to people. Get to know your crew, be there for them and their families – be a comforting contact for their spouses – be their sister.”