The three-alarm fire was a big story, not because of the potential loss of life or property damage or even the simple primal desire to see and command fire itself, but because of whom the Fire Commissioner was. Danny Peterson was the youngest person to ever hold the position of Fire Commissioner in the city’s history. She also happened to be a woman. Women’s rights and equality were all well and good on paper and when scholars discussed and debated it in universities, but in reality, the equality portion of the debate was the most poignant. Women earned less than their male counterparts and women were still considered by many to be fragile. Many difficult jobs, including firefighting, were considered men’s work. Losing a male firefighter in the line of duty was a tragedy, but to lose a woman? People just wouldn’t accept it.
There are those who insist that there is equality, but even in today’s age, a majority of society believes a woman’s job is to maintain the household and pop out male heirs on demand. ‘Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen’ was not just a tongue-in-cheek expression; it was the expectation of not only most men, but also millions of women everywhere. A woman was perfectly suited to be a schoolteacher or a waitress; even a doctor or politician, but not a combat engineer or firefighter. These beliefs were continually perpetuated by a male-dominated culture. There were scant exceptions, and any woman that strayed from these expected societal roles were branded with the scarlet ‘F’ of Feminism.
Danny Peterson knew she wanted to be a firefighter at a very young age. Her parents were not firefighters, nor were anyone in her extended family. She didn’t live in a neighborhood where hero firefighters lived, and otherwise made their presence known. No tragedy in her past compelled her to want to fight fires. She had no reason by society’s expectations to want to be a firefighter. Societal norms reflected what society thought it wanted, but society couldn’t possibly factor the reasons that resulted in Danny Peterson wanting to fight fires.
The desire was planted at an early age when Danny watched a multi-part documentary on a public broadcasting station. That documentary was about the life of firefighters. During the five-day program, many firefighters candidly revealed the tremendous lack of funding to keep these unsung heroes safe. From aging equipment to poor facilities, firefighting was a dangerous occupation, but undeservedly so. So at age seven, Danny knew her life goal was to fight fires and ensure no hero had to perish due to a lack of technology or funding. While many little girls her age were worrying if their outfits matched their shoes, Danny worried about the trials and tribulations of firefighters. Danny consumed books, trade magazines, and websites focusing on firefighters and firefighting technology. She begged her parents to take her to firefighting museums.
When her interest in firefighting lore lasted five or six years, her parents started actively encouraging her interests. Not that they hadn’t encouraged her in the past, but she was a little girl – and little girls were not interested in being firefighters. Firefighting and its accouterment was the exclusive domain of little boys. She didn’t outgrow her interests in firefighting, and so she started making frequent trips to visit the local volunteer fire department. She became their unofficial mascot, spending more and more time there as her parents permitted. She hated the condescending role as a mascot, but she endured for the sake of the firefighters she knew. Over time she convinced her parents to organize bake sales and junk drives to raise money for the fire department. At age thirteen, while her schoolmates were worrying about which boys liked which girls, Danny worried if she would be accepted to a junior firefighting academy. The academy seemed to be used by the local magistrate to encourage troublemakers or otherwise delinquent youths to do something useful with their lives. Many of them chose the academy to avoid juvenile detention. Danny chose it to hone her passion into a useful skill set.
Danny excelled at the academy, her life moved progressively toward college with degrees and multiple certifications in the art of firefighting. She firmly believed firefighting was not a science, but an art. When she decided to run for the elected position of Fire Commissioner at the age of twenty-two, there was quite the debate. The old arguments of gender roles were on everyone’s minds. She had the backing of any firefighter that had ever met her. The old-timers from that first volunteer fire department were her most vocal supporters – having known her most of her life. The politicos did not like her at all. She fervently and loudly advocated for more funding and training for the improvement and education of firefighting. She was always interested in new technologies, technologies that were usually expensive, and often did not pan out. These politicians feared her election because she definitely had the support of the firefighters, as well as the general population. Her passion for the craft was the most cogent evidence for election.
Danny’s win over the incumbent, and a field of other hopefuls was historical. This was a city that could never seem to get any policy ratified, or person elected by any means. It seemed as though nothing ever got done. Danny’s popularity was so strong she won not only the majority of the public vote, but she achieved a landslide victory that was considered by many of her supporters to be unanimous. At age twenty-two she was an elected official and had powerful sway over the voting public. The politicos feared this power, claiming it would be her downfall.
Next: Recovering Remains