‘Up for challenge’ to serve as WCFD firefighter
Her husband has been a volunteer firefighter for about 14 years, but
Crystal Collins didn’t really understand why he wanted to serve his
community in that way.
So Malcolm Collins kept nudging her to join him and serve as a volunteer
with the Woodford County Fire Department, and she finally relented in 2018.
“Okay,” she remembered telling him, “I’ll start training and see if I’m
cut out for this.” She knew the physical demands of being a firefighter
were tough on anyone, but especially for a woman.
The turnout gear worn by a firefighter weighs about 60 to 70 pounds and
that doubles with the weight of an oxygen tank. “That alone, I thought
would be enough to make me not want to do it,” she said.
“And the more I trained, the more interested I became in it.”
Now after completing state-required certification training last August
and then being sworn in as a WCFD volunteer firefighter last Saturday,
“I’ve actually fallen in love with it,” said Crystal of the fire service.
“It’s a brotherhood, and I was hesitant because I didn’t think men would
honestly respect that a woman wanted to be a part of it. And I’ve gotten
the complete opposite (response) from the whole department.” They know,
and she does too, that she can’t physically do every job, but “I can
help in other ways … and I’m still learning.”
When the day comes that she has to enter a structure fire, Crystal said
she’ll rely on her training. And helping people has “always been a part
of my nature,” she said.
Chief Melvin Montgomery said he’s not aware of any other woman serving
as a certified volunteer firefighter with the WCFD. And he said longtime
Chief Bennie Greene never talked about a woman serving in the
department, which was established in 1951.
Knowing both of their parents are now volunteer firefighters facing
dangerous situations isn’t easy for daughters Amanda and Carrie. Yet,
Amanda said they have even more respect for their parents because both
are willing to help people they don’t even know.
“I was there when my dad decided to be a firefighter,” said Carrie, a
junior at Eastern Kentucky University. She said they were coming home
from her basketball practice when they saw a church down the road on fire.
“That’s the moment, he decided to be a firefighter,” she said.
Knowing her mom is the first woman to complete 150 hours of
certification training to become a volunteer firefighter at the Woodford
County Fire Department makes Amanda, a senior at Woodford County High
“It’s really brave,” she said, “because she’s the first to do it out of
anyone. And she was the one who stepped up to the plate and say, ‘If my
husband can do this, I can do this.’”
“Mom’s always been up for a challenge,” added Carrie. “She’s always down
to prove somebody wrong.”
Training to become a firefighter pushed mom Crystal out of her comfort
zone, but dad Malcolm always believed his wife was capable of being a
“She’s always liked to help people,” said Malcolm, “but she never
understood why I did what I did.”
The WCFD only has four fulltime firefighters, so it relies heavily on
its 47 volunteers, Montgomery said. “We have room for more,” he added.
“… It’s hard to find volunteers.”
One of the drawbacks to being a volunteer firefighter is pay, he
acknowledged. He said a volunteer only receives $38 for a fire run – no
matter if they’re on scene for one or four hours.
When they’re on scene together, Malcolm said he and Crystal don’t treat
each other like husband and wife. “She’s – for lack of a better term –
one of the guys. She’s there to do a job,” he said. “… Afterwards, we go
back to being husband-wife. And I mean immediately afterwards.”
“At the station,” she agreed, “… he’s my captain.” And no matter the
relationship away from the job, he said, “If you’re going into a burning
house, you have to be able to trust that person.
“So I trust her just the same as I do anybody else.”