While the profession of fire service is dominated by men, women are slowly climbing the ranks of fire departments in Connecticut.
Eyewitness News followed two women's journey as they knock down stereotypes.
Lori Kelly joined the South Fire District in Middletown six years ago.
“They didn't know what to expect. They had no idea who I was coming in, what I was going to expect from them,” 26-year-old Plainfield native Kelly said. “And I didn't even know what to expect from them."
Kelly is a new mother and a career firefighter. She is the only woman among 35 men.
“I don't notice it, especially now after all these years,” Kelly said. “I don't notice that I'm the only female here. I'm just one of the guys."
It's a brotherhood Kelly said she was destined to become part of. Her father was a volunteer firefighter and her mother was an EMT.
“It just drew me to wanting something different, wanting to help more in the community and have the positive back in the community,” Kelly said.
South Fire District Chief Robert Ross said Kelly is integral part of his team and as he strives to diversify his staff. Ross said he hopes she will inspire young women to consider a livelihood in the fire service.
“Everybody comes in. They go shoulder-to-shoulder,” Ross said. “They get the job done because deeply rooted in all of us is they understand that our mission here is serve the public.”
In New Britain, Fire Chief Thomas Ronalter said 27-year-old Lauren Dimitruck also shares Kelly's passion. She is one of the most recent hires in New Britain. She has been officially on the job since January.
“When I volunteered, I fell in love with this,” Dimitruck said.
Like Kelly, Dimitruck shies away from the title "trail blazer,” but she realizes that the public does harbor some misperceptions about women firefighters. She is one of four, out of about 130 men.
“We have to take the same tests, the same standards,” Dimitruck said. “Nothing is lowered for us and it shouldn't be lowered because it's a physical and demanding job."
A path both women told Eyewitness News they have chosen for the long haul.
“You're part of the crew. You're not treated any differently,” Dimitruck said. “You're a firefighter."
“Make a little bit of a difference in somebody's life and then go home at the end of the day,” Kelly said.
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