“It’s always a rush to see a column of smoke or, at night, a red glow, when you’ve been dispatched to a fire.” – Jennifer Maxwell
Jennifer was born in Winter Park, Florida, and began her career in 1982 with the Orange County Fire-Rescue Department. She worked there for four years before meeting her husband and moving to Greenville, Texas.
Becoming Plano’s first firewoman was no surprise. Jennifer said that the designation was part of the interview process. “The chief, at the time, told me about some negative media attention regarding an all-white, male department, and that I would be the first woman, if hired.”
She continued, “There’s not that many women even now in fire service, but in Orange County, Florida, there happened to be two or three women working in the fire department already. So when I came here, I had already been doing the job for four years. I knew I could live at the fire station, and I knew I could fight fire. So, it was good that Plano’s first female firefighter had experience.”
Naturally, this designation gave Jennifer confidence, so she wasn’t worried about being held to a different standard. “I think the guys were more worried about me than I was about them,” she joked.
Furthermore, Jennifer wasn’t the only minority that was being hired. “My group had the first black guy and two Hispanic guys.”
The crew quickly bonded, which is common among firefighters because of their work schedules. Typically, there are three captains at each station who are responsible for one shift (A shift, B shift and C shift) with anywhere between four and 12 crew members. A shift is 24 hours, from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. the next morning, every third day.
“I am one of seven kids, too, so that was perfect training for living in the fire station,” Jennifer said and laughed.
On top of long hours, firefighters are, of course, responsible for staying fit. “We have a physical test next spring that I’ll have to work toward to get my time down,” said Jennifer, who is fit at 54. “We practiced it just a little while ago and I’m proud I can still do it.”
In the last 30 years, Jennifer has been part of many memorable fire-rescue stories, both proud moments and, of course, stories of loss. “The tough ones really stay with you,” she said. “There was this wreck involving two brothers, a 16-year-old and an 8-year-old. The 16-year-old was driving and fell asleep at the wheel. Their vehicle caught on fire. The parents were on the scene because they were driving a separate vehicle behind them, and I had to tell the parents that their 16-year-old was still trapped in the car and didn’t make. They transported the other boy to the hospital, so I encouraged them to go be with their other son, but unfortunately, he didn’t make it either.”
Jennifer continued, “This happened right before a shift change so I headed home, and I have three step-kids, two boys and a girl, and the boys were squabbling like boys do, and I remember telling them what happened and urging them be nice to each other. It hit home. Those kind of calls stay with you forever. You never forget them.”
Jennifer admitted, “You can quickly become hardened with this job, but the department, we’re family. Recently, a captain at Station 8 was in a motorcycle accident. It’s a beautiful thing to see our fire department family pull together. It makes me so proud to be a Plano fire fighter.”