By DANIELLE REID
In meeting nineteen-year-old Madison Phillips, you would never guess that her choice of careers is that of a firefighter. She is the first paid full-time female firefighter in the Town of Pulaski. Her winsome smile and quiet demeanor disguise her courageous decision to follow the lead of several of her family members in the dangerous pursuit of helping people in distress.
Phillips was a firefighter volunteer at age 16, then began completing firefighting classes required to become a career-staff firefighter. Under the tutelage of her firefighter and certified-trainer father, Cliff Phillips, she has completed several courses and is now certified to help with teaching basic firefighter classes.
“He was more demanding and harder on me than anyone else in the class,” Phillips laughs.
With her family’s legacy of being firefighters, it’s no wonder she decided to follow in their footsteps. Her grandfather, uncle and cousin all serve their community in that capacity through the Draper Fire Department. Phillips’ father, Cliff Phillips, serves as Deputy Chief of the Draper Fire Department, as a Lieutenant in the Town of Pulaski Fire Department, and also as Fire Inspector for the Town of Blacksburg.
Phillips says she emulates the family character traits of having a strong work ethic, and a never-give-up spirit. She recalls helping her father at the Draper Fire Department ever since she was a child, learning to roll fire hoses and helping to wash the fire trucks.
“I’ve always had a passion for helping at the fire department. I enjoy learning with my family and sharing the experiences with my father – it’s like a father-daughter day together.”
In case we think the movies portray a typical leisurely day at the fire station, Phillips enlightens us to the fact that the firefighters train five to six hours per day, honing their skills in pumping water off the truck from 5-inch diameter hoses, driver training to maneuver the 22.5-ton pumper trucks – anything you can think of that involves the protection and safety of the community.
Philipps’ current certification training is for Engineer, with a future prospect of solo driving Engine 61, which is the designated fire truck for the town of Pulaski, Engine 62, designated for Pulaski County, and in the future the Ladder Truck.
She says of her firefighting experience so far, that because she is the smallest one of the crew, she is the first to get sent to small spaces, such as an attic or crawl space. Although many people would consider that frightening, Phillips says she finds it a challenge rather than being claustrophobic.
“Every call is exciting in its own way,” she remarks.
After a recent fire she was doing a salvage and overhaul which means checking to be sure the fire was entirely out. She used a tool to pull down the ceiling and a snake nest fell right in front of her.
A typical shift is 24-hours, with an early morning start. The firefighters’ day begins with clean-up chores, checking the trucks to ensure they are in working order, and continuous training. Their schedule has them working three intermittent days, then having four-days off. However, if there is a need for additional manpower due to an overwhelming emergency, the All-Call-Tone alerts staff and volunteers to report to the fire station or the designated emergency location.
This fall, Phillips will be enrolled in New River Community College nursing classes, adding valuable medical training to her current training as a firefighter. She shares encouragement for other young women who are pursuing their careers.
“Never give up on what you want. Always strive to do your best! You won’t always be perfect, but you can at least say you have done your best.”
As the town’s first female full-time firefighter, Phillips continues a string of firsts for the Town of Pulaski. Current Town Manager Darlene Burcham is the town’s first female town manager, and Jill Niece is the town’s first female Police Chief.
Fire Chief Jeff D. Conner says the fire department is always looking for volunteers who are dedicated to learning, willing to do any job whether on scene or at the station and are at least age 16. Anyone with those criteria wanting to apply to become a volunteer firefighter should contact the Town of Pulaski Fire Department Shift Captain, Robbie Kiser at: 540.994.8662 or visit the station at 117 Jefferson Avenue.
The procedure to become a volunteer firefighter begins by filling out an application, which will go before the Volunteer Committee comprised of paid staff and volunteer officers. A decision will be based on a personal interview and successfully passing a background check including references.