The stars aligned earlier this month when five female firefighters at Palm Beach Gardens Fire and Rescue in South Florida made history as the first all-female fire crew in the department’s 57-year existence.
The women, who range in age from 29 to 53, have nearly 80 years of firefighting and EMT experience between them, but they had never worked a shift together until Sept. 18, when each was scheduled to work at the same station.
Now, their story has gone viral, inspiring other women to work hard to reach their goals.
“That day, every rank was filled with a female, which was awesome, I’m not going to lie,” said Krystyna Krakowski, a lieutenant with nearly 20 years of experience. “I was giddy like a little girl. I still am. It’s girl power — we build each other up and we rise by lifting others.”
Krakowski is a single mom with a 21-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. Her daughter was one of her biggest motivations in taking on such a demanding career.
“Those of us who are moms — our kids are very supportive,” Krakowski told TODAY. “Our daughters are our biggest fans.”
On the day of their all-female shift, which fell on the day Supreme Court justice and women’s rights advocate Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, the women say they responded to several calls and were amused by the excited reception they received.
“The reaction from people when they saw five women pile out of two different apparatus was funny,” Krakowski recalled.
“They wanted to give us high-fives,” said Sandi Ladewski, the only female driver engineer for the department. “They’d call us for their emergency but then they were like, ‘Oh, wait, high-five!’ We didn’t know what to do.”
Krakowski says the support was overwhelming, as was the playful teasing from some of their male colleagues.
“Of course, the jokes piled in,” Krakowski recalled. “Did you have pillow fights? Did you go online shopping together? But then where was the support, which was great. People were like, ‘I hope you get a big call so you can show them what you’re capable of.'”
While they’re not sure when they’ll be scheduled to work together again, a statement from Palm Beach Gardens Fire and Rescue says it’s a definite possibility due to the number of females the department employs.
“Our progressive staffing and recruitment efforts are reflected in that moment,” the statement reads. “Nationally, female firefighters represent 4% of professional firefighters, whereas women make up 11% of our department’s firefighters. We are especially proud that 58% of our female firefighters hold the rank of Lieutenant or higher.”
While they wait to work together again, the women of Palm Beach Gardens Fire and Rescue plan to continue working hard.
They work 24-hour shifts and then get 48 hours off before they repeat the same routine. During their shifts, they respond to calls involving incidents like structure fires, car accidents, medical emergencies and traumatic injuries.
In 2019, the station’s ladder truck unit responded to more than 1,500 emergency calls, and the medic rescue unit responded to more than 2,000.
“We’ll keep doing what we do: doing our job and supporting each other and staying positive,” said Krakowski. “It’s about getting through and being there for each other.”