- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Kiersten Shea has accomplished what no other female volunteer firefighter in Calvert County has she is now the youngest licensed female fire apparatus driver in the county.
Shea, who turned 21 on Tuesday, has been a member of the Solomons Volunteer Fire Department for five years, and she has been training for the past year to get her commercial driver’s license. She said she has gone through in-house driver and pump training, and has also taken pump operator and emergency vehicle operator courses through the Motor Vehicle Association to get her license.
“It’s exciting,” Shea said. “It’s kind of surprising to me in a way, that there aren’t more females who drive, because females are becoming more popular in the fire service. I’m just really excited about it.”
The Lusby resident said being a fire truck driver makes her feel “more useful to the department” because there are not a lot of people certified to drive.
“I feel like it’s more beneficial [to be a driver] and I feel like I can do more for the department and for the community, being able to drive,” Shea said.
Solomons Chief Jim Taylor said Wednesday that Shea was “cut loose” as a driver of the department’s Class A pumpers, which are considered fire engines. Her next step, Taylor said, is to be able to drive the department’s pumper tankers and ladder truck, which will take about a year-and-a-half to train for.
Kim Jones, the county Recruitment and Retention specialist for the Department of Emergency Services, confirmed that Shea is the youngest known female licensed to drive a fire truck in the county and called her an asset to the fire department.
“It’s a fabulous accomplishment,” Jones said. “We’re very proud of her. Women don’t normally [drive fire trucks] and especially being as young as she is, it’s an excellent accomplishment.”
Jones said Shea was one of the first to complete a fire science and EMS program offered to high school juniors and seniors, which ultimately contributed to her achieving an associate’s degree in fire science from the College of Southern Maryland.
Jones said Shea was eligible for and received scholarship opportunities after participating in the fire science and EMS program, which required her to go on eight calls, participate in three “collaterals” such as cleaning the firehouse or washing the truck and attend a meeting or drill every month for a year. Shea has been eligible for the scholarship for the past three years, Jones said.
Shea currently works as a 911 dispatcher in St. Mary’s County while pursuing a degree in emergency management at the University of Maryland.
Taylor said having Shea licensed to drive the department’s larger apparatuses is a real asset because many young members do not have the desire to do so. He said Shea is also a role model for other female members or potential members.
“Kiersten … shows other female members and potential members that it’s possible; it’s not what sex you are, it’s the ability that you have to do something,” Taylor said.
Taylor said Shea has completed all of her necessary training to become a driver. The only step left is for Taylor and the other chiefs to review her driving package and interview her.
“She should, from there, be cut loose to drive the pumpers,” Taylor said.
Taylor said since Shea’s family has been involved with the fire department for many years, he has witnessed her grow within the department since she joined at 16-years-old. He said she has come a long way from joining the department with no formal training, to becoming a certified EMT and firefighter, to being licensed to drive the department’s smaller apparatuses and to now being licensed to drive its larger trucks.
“ … To be able to be the chief and to watch her grow up and succeed … it’s an honor for me,” Taylor said.
Solomons VFD Chief Engineer Jerry Church said anyone who wants to be a fire truck driver has to meet certain standards, including being able to maneuver the truck in traffic and through smaller streets. Church said Kiersten Shea was a natural.
“She just blew me away,” Church said. “I get a little leery with some people driving, but I felt pretty comfortable after the first two or three minutes.”
Church said “anybody can drive a fire truck” but the most important thing to know how to do is to operate it correctly. Shea is “a very conscious and safety-oriented person,” Church said, and knows what to do and when to do it.
“I haven’t really seen too many females that have progressed as fast as she has and really grabbed the bull by the horns, so to speak,” Church said. “ … I’ve been doing this for about 30 years as a volunteer and I’ve never seen a young lady like that just get out there and wield a truck like she did. My hat is off to her.”
Shea’s father, Bernie Shea, is a paid firefighter for the Naval District Washington Fire Department and is also a member of Solomons VFD, of which he was chief about 21 years ago, so being involved in fire services is “something that’s been in the family.” Kiersten Shea said her father provided a lot of guidance during her years as a volunteer.
“She’s following right in her father’s footsteps,” Bernie Shea said, who said he has been a volunteer firefighter for 34 years and a paid firefighter for 25. “ … I’m definitely very proud.”
Bernie Shea said his daughter has driven him in the fire truck from Solomons to La Plata and back for a training session and he feels comfortable with her driving.
“She drives better than some of the paid men that I work with,” Bernie Shea chuckled. “She’s very cautious.”
As a young child, Bernie Shea said his daughter would come visit him at work and he started to see a “great desire” to volunteer for the fire department when she was about 11 or 12-years-old.
Denise Shea, Kiersten’s mother, said they have a scanner at home and as a child, her daughter would listen to the calls and “definitely had an interest.” Soon, her daughter was saying she wanted to become a 911 dispatcher, which she later accomplished, and wanted to be a volunteer firefighter.
“I’m very proud,” said Denise Shea. “ … She’s definitely making history.”