Mar. 28—PRINCETON — When she was a child, Ashley Peyton thought about becoming a nurse when she grew up, but this idea led to the emergency side of medical service and finally to a career in firefighting.
On Wednesday, Peyton become the first female career member of the Princeton Fire Department. The department has had women who have served as volunteer firefighters, but Peyton is the first to be hired.
"She's the first one to fully complete the process and get hired," Chief Chad Bailey said. "There's been one other (woman) who passed our hiring tests and she was on our last hiring list; but we just didn't hire that many positions to get down to her on the list whereas Ashley, we did get to her on the list."
A native of Princeton, Peyton attended Princeton Senior High School and attended Bluefield State College and Bluefield College before moving away from the area. She later returned to Mercer County and started working in EMS and then started volunteering at the fire department.
"And I fell in love with it," she recalled. "I wanted to give it a shot, so I tested with them and did well on the tests. I like the area, and the first live burn we did at the training center, it just amazed me and I enjoyed that aspect of it. I also enjoy the fast pace. EMS is fast paced as well, but this is a little different and we have a little bit more down time because it is just city limits, but it is helping out the community; so I feel like I can do more here."
Before becoming eligible to be hired as a firefighter, Peyton had to take a series of demanding physical tests as well as the Civil Service test. The tests start out with climbing a 100-foot ladder at a 70-degree angle. Another test involves dragging a 180-pound dummy 40 feet one way and back another 40 feet. Firefighter candidates must also accomplish tasks such as dragging a fire hose up ladders and carrying two buckets — each weighing 50 pounds — through a maze. Peyton also had to do a "forced entry" by using a sledgehammer and crawling through a maze.
"It was difficult," she said.
But climbing 100 feet up a ladder was not daunting.
"I've never really been afraid of heights," Peyton said. "That didn't bother me at all. I've always been kind of one of the daredevils. When I was a kid, I was climbing trees and doing things my brothers and his friends were doing. Whatever they got into, I got into. Not much scared me, I guess."
Peyton had to pass the same tests given to any other firefighter applicant.
"Absolutely," Bailey said. "There was nothing given to her. It's the exact same tests, the exact same physical, so she earned her spot."
Positions at the Princeton Fire Department do not become available very often.
"There's that process of waiting for a position to open, and we don't have a big turnover rate here," Bailey stated. "I think there's been, maybe, up to 75 people in the 110-year history of the Princeton Fire Department, and that's 12 people at a time. You just don't have that big of a turnover rate. Most people that come put in 20-plus years."
Bailey, who said that he started his firefighting career when he was 21, has been with the department for about 26 years. Other firefighters have retired after 25 years or more with the department.
Peyton plans to make the same long-term commitment to firefighting.
"I would like to stay with this for the full time," she said. "I would like to move up in rank. I would like to prove that women can do this and it can be a long-term thing."
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org