Monroe resident Dulce Bravo plays an essential role in Matthews; she’s a firefighter for the Matthews Fire & EMS Department.
Of the firefighters in the US, only 7% are women. There are eleven women in the 84-person Matthews Fire & EMT Department, including one paid full-time firefighter, three firefighter/EMTs, and seven EMTs. Of the twelve Fire Corps members, a whopping 25% are women.
Bravo, as her coworkers call her, is that one full-timer.
Thanks to a budget increase for the Matthews Fire & EMS Department in 2018, Bravo was one of eleven new hires. Her strong sense of community and her eagerness to serve brought her to Matthews. She loves the small town friendliness and being able to support the community in an integral way.
It was a chilling experience that led Bravo to emergency services: a friend died in front of her. That friend, she believes, could’ve been saved with CPR. It’s an experience that led her to train to save lives and etched in her a firm belief that more people should be trained to perform CPR.
She first trained as an EMT and started responding to calls, but as she watched firefighters going into burning buildings she realized she wanted to be the one to do that--the first to go in to help, the first to administer first aid. Waiting was not for her. Bravo studied, trained, and became a certified firefighter. Her first job was as a volunteer in the Monroe Fire Department.
In a field where technology continually improves and levels the physical playing field, more and more women are joining fire departments. Gone are the days when it was thought a firefighter had to be able to throw a someone over their shoulder to carry out of a burning building. Newer techniques and lighter gear make it possible for someone who can’t bench press their own body weight to pursue a firefighting career.
Still, fighting fires and saving lives is not a job for the faint of heart. It takes sharp thinking, quick problem solving, and the ability to communicate and work as a team. While working, firefighters must maintain composure under tremendous pressure, and, of course, be strong. The protective gear alone can weigh 45 pounds, add a fire hose or ladder to that and the added weight can be 100 pounds or more. Bravo may not bench press an elephant, but we still wouldn't challenge her to any feats of strength.
Even after realizing there may be challenges as a female in a male-dominated field, Bravo knew a career with Matthews is for her. Before joining, she wondered if being a woman would matter. Having been in Matthews for several months now, she says of the department, “They’re supportive, patient, and they don’t make you ‘feel like a girl.’” What Bravo has found here is camaraderie, respect, and a group of people who are first and foremost dedicated to helping others.