When Amanda Christensen moved to Farmington last summer, she had no idea she was going to make history in her new community. All she knew was that she wanted to be a firefighter.
This week, she accomplished both when she sat down for orientation Monday evening.
Christensen was among the six newest Farmington fire fighters to start orientation this week. She's also the first woman to join the local department's ranks.
It came as a surprise when fire chief Tim Pietsch called her last week to ask if she'd sit through an interview for this newspaper story. Christensen didn't think twice about the gender issue when she was applying and going through the hiring process - she kind of figured that, for a community of this size, there would be other women on the squad. But then Pietsch told her she was the first.
"I had no idea there wasn't any other woman here," she said Monday night, "but then the chief called last Thursday.... He said I was the first female on the department. I thought that was pretty awesome. It's pretty cool."
Earning the spot on the fire department means passing three phases in the hiring process. Applicants have to pass a written test, an agility course and interview with the department's hiring committee before their appointments can be recommended to the Farmington City Council.
Once they are a part of the department, they have a three-year learning process to go through, which includes six certifications over that period. Each of those certifications requires extensive classroom learning.
But Christensen comes to Farmington with two of those classes already under her belt. She attended college in Bemidji, where she became certified as an emergency medical technician in 2008. But since she has always had an interest in becoming a firefighter, she completed the firefighter 1 training that is required, too. She has to get her state certification in that class, but that's something Pietsch said the local department will assist her in doing.
"That part is exciting, too," Pietsch said. "That tells me that (firefighting) is something she definitely wants to do."
As part of her education, Christensen has done ride alongs with an ambulance service, but she's never been on a fire truck for a call. That's something she's really looking forward to.
Christensen and her fellow new recruits won't get to do any actual firefighting in their first year. At a fire scene, they'll be instructed to watch and learn, maybe to go and retrieve things for the firefighters who are working the fire. But until they've completed all of the education and certifications - essentially their first year of service - they're in a probationary period, Pietsch said.
Once the recruits complete their first year, they'll get their turnout gear and dress uniforms.
An exciting time
Pietsch is pleased Farmington welcomed its first female fire fighter during his tenure as chief. Welcoming women to the department was a goal he set a few years back. Now, he hopes Christensen's experience will help to attract other women who might be interested in becoming fire fighters, but who might have been intimidated to do so.
"It's very exciting," he said. "I am kind of hoping that it will catch on and it will lead to more female firefighters."
But the hiring also brings a slight change in the dynamics of the department. Women do things in a different manner than men do at times. To address some of those issues, Pietsch invited Inver Grove Heights fire chief Judy Thill to talk to his crew ahead of time. Thill's message was simple - she can get the job done, she'll just do it her own way to make it work.
"(Thill) can get the job done, but instead of doing it the way a guy would, she's got her own little routine. We may have to show Amanda how to start and run a chain saw or something like that, but we'll let her work through it and figure out how to do it on her own terms.
"We've got several female police officers, and they do a terrific job. They bring another aspect to the field. Likewise, with us getting our first female firefighter on board, she is going to bring a new aspect to us, too. I believe it will bring out the best in our people at the fire hall, too," he said.
Christensen isn't too fazed by the fact she's the first female firefighter in Farmington. All she really cares about is that she's simply - finally - a fire fighter.
"I'm really excited about it. I plan on staying here a long time," she said.
Christensen originally hails from Browerville, which is located in central Minnesota. She's second oldest of nine children in her family.