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Ali Warren

Female Firefighting Pioneer

Ali has blazed her way in firefighting. At 16, she became a volunteer firefighter. She worked hard and became fully certified as a firefighter by the time she was 18. Along the way, she faced many challenges in a workplace that was run by men. She continued in the field. Ali, now 21, recently wrote a book called Where Hope Lives that encourages girls to boldly pursue their dreams.

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How old are you and where are you from?

I am 21 years old, and I am from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania.

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How were you able to become a firefighter at such a young age?

I began volunteer firefighting at age 16, which is the youngest age possible. Until I was 18, I wasn't allowed to operate power tools and work inside of a burning building. So until then, I spent time training on everything that I could and took as many classes as possible. By the time I turned 18, I was qualified and able to work as a firefighter.

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Where did you work?

I worked in my hometown station for the first four years of my career.

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What do you think drew you to firefighting?

I have always loved to take care of people. When we were younger, I would make my sister pretend to be sick just so I could take care of her. Firefighting is a job that fits my personality well. It requires me to be brave, strong, and sure of myself. It is fast-paced, full of adrenaline, chaotic, and very fulfilling. I’ve found I can operate well in stressful situations, which is as much of a learned skill as raising a ladder or opening a hydrant.

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What does someone need to do to become a firefighter?

Physical strength is needed, but I’ve found that mental strength is where one must be the most powerful. To be a firefighter, you ultimately need a lot of heart. A simple yet powerful desire to do the job is what you need to carry you through the difficult, sad, and stressful situations.

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What is a typical day like?

Most of my experiences so far have been in volunteer firefighting. In this case, the firefighters wear pagers throughout the day that alert us to any 911 calls for firefighters. When the calls come in, we all rush to the station, get on whichever fire truck is needed, and respond to the call. I now work as a professional firefighter in San Francisco. Professional firefighters usually stay in the station when they are not out responding to calls.

Firefighting in the city is very different. In San Francisco, we’re often on the scene of one call and are called to another, with no break in between. And typical days in city departments are different. Breakfast is early in the morning, around shift change. Then everyone gathers together for some type of training, and then we all hit the grocery store and help shop for the meals of the day. Lunch is a busy and often loud group effort. In the afternoon, the firefighters are free to spend their time in the station as they wish. Most people exercise, read, work on their car or motorcycle, or take a nap. But all of that gets dropped when the calls come in.

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What do you love most about firefighting?

I love many things about firefighting. It demands the absolute best of me, in every way. Besides being the ultimate adrenaline rush, firefighting shows me the positive effect that people can have on each other.

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Tell us about some of the struggles you had being a young, female firefighter.

Initially I struggled to fit in, to be confident in myself. Then I struggled to be allowed to stay. As a 16-year-old girl in a male-dominated profession, I was the opposite of everything they were. They saw me as a joke. The other firefighters didn’t want me there because I broke their stereotype, so working there from day to day was a constant fight. I struggled with myself more than anything, because they made me doubt myself and my abilities in their attempt to make me leave.

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What inspired you to write a book about your experiences?

Where Hope Lives began as my way to find closure from the events that took place in my first firehouse. Writing the book caused me to look at all the insecurities and doubts I held within myself because of what happened, and I rediscovered why I love this job.

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What advice do you have for girls or women who want to be firefighters or pursue other male-dominated careers?

Just do it! There will always be people who want to talk you out of doing something that is different. And even though you might feel alone, there is a whole network of strong women who are succeeding in their careers. Every time one of us succeeds, we all do.

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Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?

In five years I want to be in a leadership position in firefighting. Being a writer was something I never could have dreamed of, but here we are! I recently established my own publishing company, Hope Lives Publishing. In five and 10 and 30 years, I want that company to be in full swing, bringing my projects and other meaningful projects to life.

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Since firefighting is so physically and emotionally demanding, can you tell us some things you do to stay healthy?

As Where Hope Lives shows, the way I stay emotionally healthy is by writing down my thoughts and feelings about my day-to-day life. Having this outlet is especially important when firefighting is extremely stressful or if I am a part of something particularly extraordinary that I want to remember. Having a strong support system is also important. For me, that consists of family and friends, as well as friends in the business who can understand the demands of firefighting.

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Content last reviewed October 01, 2011
Page last updated October 01, 2011

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.