Female firefighter up for challenges Published Aug. 8, 2003 By Ida Barry 45th Space Wing Public Affairs PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- Many people think of firefighters as burly men with the strength of the Incredible Hulk. One female here breaks that mold. Staff Sgt. Suzanne Blundell, from the 45th Civil Engineer Squadron, is the only female firefighter at the base fire station. It is a job that sets her apart from her peers while she serves as a role model for women who want to take on jobs they do not normally tackle. "When I came into the military I had a guaranteed job as a signal intelligence analyst and the career field got canceled," Blundell said. "The new career list I was given included firefighter so I picked it. It was right up my alley because I like being active and occupied all the time. I made the decision there and then and have never looked back.”"This is a family, and she is part of it," said Richard Daniels, operations assistant chief of Shift B. "She works alongside us as if there is no gender. It makes no difference that she is a female. She is part of our team." "They are careful not to step on my toes or say anything that is offensive,” Blundell said. “They protect me in my personal life much as a big brother would his sister. It's like having 20 big brothers yet half of them are younger than me." Although they are protective of her, she is not given any special treatment when responding to a call. She is expected to work just as hard and pull her fair share of the load, doing exactly as they do. She is trained to respond to calls that include medical, structural building fires, personnel and water rescues, plane crashes, flight and ground emergencies and hazardous material. "It's all in a days work and … the type of vehicle I am on that shift (determines) if I go on that call," said Blundell. "I have to be on my toes at all times." "I have been working with her for almost a year and this is not an awkward situation at all," said Airman 1st Class Thomas Bielei, 45th CES firefighter. "She's outstanding in her work. She is certainly not given any preferential treatment and works harder than a lot of the guys do. I admire her motivation." Her shift work involves working 24 hours on and 24 hours off, including weekends, holidays and wing down days. "The worst part of the job is that I don't get enough time to spend with my family and friends," said Blundell. "Most moms are there … to cook dinner and put their children to bed every night. Because of my job, I am not able to do this. Thankfully, I have their grandmother to care for them while I am at work." Blundell advises women considering this career field to be thick-skinned, work on their upper body strength, have lots of determination and most importantly, to stick with it. "I probably get burned out easier than most of the guys, but I keep trying," she said. "The guys give me a lot of encouragement to keep going."