By Ann Rowland
In the late 1980’s Cindy Brunson was looking for a job that wouldn’t have her sitting down for most of the day. When she saw an ad in the local Columbia, Tennessee newspaper for a firefighter she thought that sounded interesting. On January 29, exactly 24 years to the day since joining the Columbia Fire Department, Captain Cindy Brunson is hanging up her fire coat and helmet and retiring.
“I think at the time, I needed a job and I saw it (the listing in the paper),” Brunson told The Columbia Daily Herald earlier this month. “I’m not the kind of sit-behind-the-desk person. It sounded interesting, and when I came here I didn’t know there weren’t any other girls. That never crossed my mind. God put me here for a reason. I didn’t plan on it, but I’m glad I did.”
Brunson was and still is the Columbia Fire Department’s only female firefighter. Chief Lee Bergeron told WZTV-Nashville “I think she’s a trailblazer.”
Being the only woman was not intimidating for Brunson. “I wasn’t uncomfortable being around them,” Brunson told The Columbia Daily Herald. “They were all very nice. They’ve always been very nice. You live here like family. You learn each other’s problems. You talk about what each other is doing in each other’s life.”
Brunson is not just a firefighter. She is also the department’s public education officer and she sets up school assemblies to educate children about fire safety and prevention. “We’ve gone to a fire where people have lost their life and that’s hard, especially if it’s a kid,” she told WZTV.
Chief Bergeron refers to Brunson as the “cohesive part” of the department’s fire prevention programs. “She doesn’t like to brag on herself,” he told WZTV.
Brunson admits that she will miss being at fire station 5. When asked what she will miss the most, Captain Brunson told WZTV “The guys here at the department. I don’t know many girls who can say they’ve got this many brothers.”
The Columbia Fire Department has had problems with recruiting female candidates because of the competition with the state and other fire departments for qualified candidates. The City of Columbia has recently increased pay for firefighters and they are hoping that will be an incentive to be able to recruit qualified candidates, regardless of gender.
For Brunson, it has never been a question of whether or not a woman could be a firefighter. She believes that the main qualifications are “bravery and compassion”.
“It’s a hard job, but girls can do it,” Brunson told WZTV. “It was a really great career choice. I’ve really enjoyed my career here.”