Someone had to be first. Colleagues brought lipstick and a rubber band to my service, the firefighter laughs | iRADIO

“We don’t want to differentiate between men and women,” said the general director of the fire department, Vladimír Vlček. Thirty-two-year-old Michaela Žďárská became the first professional firefighter of the field unit. She passed the entrance tests like her male colleagues, at the weekend she had her first shift in Prague’s Holešovice. “There are twenty boys. Now they have stuck someone who is an intruder to them. They are waiting to see what will come of it,” says Žďárská in an interview for the iROZHLAS.cz server.



Prague
7:00 a.m September 6, 2022

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Joining the professionals is a dream come true for Michaela | Photo: René Volfík | Source: iROZHLAS.cz

Why do some men think women don’t belong in the firehouse?
I don’t know, but it is a fact that there are a lot of opinions that it is a purely male job. Today, women already work in the same positions as men, whether in managerial positions, or in the police and army. The Fire and Rescue Service was the only branch without women, it was a man’s territory. I think they’re pissed off that they got a woman in there.

Were you surprised by the reactions of those around you?
Certainly. I did not expect that there would be such an enormous interest in it. I’ve been a firefighter for three years, it’s nothing world-shattering for me, I don’t feel like a star. On the contrary, I feel humbled and grateful that I was able to go to the professionals. I enjoyed volunteer firefighting and this was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. I wanted to use her.

Colleagues are waiting

What was your first job?
I have to admit I was worried. The collective is not ready for a woman, which I understand. They don’t know how I will behave as a woman on the trip, how they should treat me, how we will get along together. Of course there are twenty guys and everyone has their own habits. Now they have stuck someone who is an intruder to them. They are waiting to see what will happen and don’t know how to handle it.

How did your colleagues receive you?
To start, shift A prepared a beautiful gift for me in the form of such a “handbag”. They prepared items that will help me in my service: rubber band, mascara, lipstick. It was great. I guess they’ll get used to it. Of course, there are people who are more for and who are more against, but we will definitely get along in time.

If I didn’t do firefighting with my heart, I wouldn’t be where I am, says Michaela | Photo: René Volfík | Source: iROZHLAS.cz

Before the interview started, you mentioned that they don’t like the attention you’re getting. Why?
This is not to deny attention to the fire service. On the contrary, I think it should be talked about more. Rather, it bothers them that I’ve been with them for a while and there’s already so much media interest in me. Unfortunately, someone had to be the first and it was me. At the same time, other women can learn about this option thanks to the media. Without it, recruitment might not even be as effective.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a professional?
Already at the first trip to the volunteer fire brigade. It excited me. I really enjoyed it, it was something new. It was just great and I thought I would enjoy doing it all day and not just randomly. But it’s not my childhood dream.

Michaela Žďárská

She has been working in the Prague Dolní Měcholupy volunteer fire department since 2019. In three years, she participated in 49 technical assistance, fire, or emergency calls. She helped with damage removal after a tornado, in connection with the war in Ukraine or during the covid emergency. She participated in last year’s RescueDays – training in extrication from crashed vehicles. She also completed training in the Fire Dragon 9000 fire simulator, this year she started competing in the TFA (Toughest Firefighter Alive) discipline. It was the power all-around, simulating the work of firefighters during a real intervention, that helped her prepare for the entrance tests for professionals, especially in terms of physicality. She likes animals and enjoys climbing in her spare time. She studied tourism.

What new things do you have to learn?
The contents of the exits are more or less the same, only they were not used on such a scale. With professionals you have to do things better, I prepared for this long and intensively. I often hear that firefighting should be done with the heart. I think that if I hadn’t done it with my heart, I wouldn’t be where I am.

Were your colleagues prejudiced against you in your early days?
Some do, some don’t. I was extremely lucky to have a unit commander. Péťa Vltavský accepted me as best he could. He more or less told me: “We are a group of guys and you either fit in and get along with us, or it just doesn’t work out and you leave.” But we won’t make any concessions, either you get used to it or you don’t.”

Firefighters, especially volunteer ones, often comment on women in the fire brigades as ornaments that better represent them and consider their beauty to be their greatest asset. Have you come across this opinion?
Women are always an ornament, I can’t say anything against that at all. Fortunately, I already have such a position with the volunteer firefighters that they treat me as an equal, and it shows even on trips. In the beginning, they tended to help me: “Don’t take this, don’t lift that”. Then they got used to it.

Women going out? We don’t take

After the announcement that you became the first professional, several other requests came in. Is it just a momentary enthusiasm, or will the number of women continue to increase in the long term?
Yes it will. Now it’s booming because the doors opened for them, but the requests came in all the time. No one was processing them. In other words, they were rejecting them… The management of the fire department has now changed its mind.

Did they fail the required entrance tests?
They didn’t even go to the tests. They were told that they do not take women to the exit because they are not allowed there. I applied, and since I’m with the volunteer fire department, I do TFA races, and I also do websites that promote the fire department, I’m a little more visible. That helped me. Now women should also access the tests.

What do you enjoy most about being a firefighter?
We had a great group of volunteers. We went to various trainings, to climb. Every firefighter will say that putting out a fire is a great experience. Helping people is a completely different feeling, it is a huge satisfaction.


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How do you deal with mental strain and stress?
Since I am with the professionals for a short time, I will take it at the level of volunteer firefighters. When the alarm goes off on my cell phone, I get a real adrenaline rush. We have to leave within ten minutes of the alarm going off, which means that when my phone rings at two in the morning, I have to leave in a short time in my car, complete with full armor.

After my most difficult outing, where fourteen were injured and burned, six of them children, we chatted with the others in a circle. The important thing is to discuss it, get out of it and move on.

What do you do best and what do you doubt yourself about?
I’m still learning something and I have a lot to learn, now I’m waiting for the introductory course, which lasts half a year. Volunteer firefighters don’t have that kind of space for training, but I can handle the basics. I approach everything as a challenge and as something I enjoy. It’s true that I haven’t had many tragic traffic accidents yet, so we’ll see how it goes.

Do you have another professional dream that you would like to fulfill?
There is some progress, but it’s a long shot. For me, this is truly a dream come true. Not even mine, but it’s more like opening the door for other girls. I managed to change something that had been ingrained for decades.

Žaneta Levíčková

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