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Into the flames part 2: Women firefighters talk about rewards, challenges of the job

This is the second in a two-part series dedicated to women firefighters in Douglas County.

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Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series dedicated to women firefighters in Douglas County.

DOUGLAS COUNTY — In the September/October issue of the Echo Press’ Chicz magazine, women firefighters were featured in celebration of Fire Prevention Week.

Beginning in 1922, the National Fire Protection Association has been sponsoring the public observance of Fire Prevention Week.

According to the NFPA’s website, it was in 1925 that President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed Fire Prevention Week a national observance, making it the longest-running public health observance in the country.

Fire Prevention Week is observed each year in October in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

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This year’s Fire Prevention Week will take place Oct. 9 through Oct. 15.

The staff of the Chicz magazine and the Echo Press would like to say “thank you” to the women firefighters in Douglas County – Shania Pedersen and Jennifer Olson.

Read about why they chose to be volunteer firefighters, what is the most rewarding part of their jobs, the most challenging and more in the following Q&A responses.

Shania Pedersen

Shania Pedersen was born in Amberg, Germany, and raised all over the U.S. Having a German mother and a military father really brought a ton of experiences into her life. She speaks both German and English fluently and she is a citizen of both countries. Pedersen has lived in six different U.S. states and attended nine different schools – from Hawaii to New Jersey and many in-between.

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Shania Pedersen
Contributed photo

She currently owns her own architectural drafting business in Alexandria – Northern Haus. The focus of her business is primarily residential new builds and remodels from lake homes, barndominiums, shops etc. She lives in Alexandria with her fiancé, Jordan Thoennes, who is also with the Alexandria Fire Department. They are currently planning for their wedding in 2023.

Q: How long have you been with the Alexandria Fire Department and briefly describe your duties? 

A: I have been with the AFD since the beginning of 2020. My duties are fairly consistent for most of the fire department, and I am continuously working on improving my knowledge and skills by looking up to all the seniority above me. This includes responding to calls, being able to spot hazards when arriving at scenes, engineering water from the trucks, knowing how to safely and properly perform vehicle extrication, operating equipment such as aerial ladders, hydraulic/battery/manual tools, hoses and SCBAs, inspect scenes of fire or accident to identify causes, and clean/maintain our equipment and tools.

Q: Why did you want to become a firefighter or what drew you to the job?

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A: I didn’t necessarily ever expect to become a firefighter. Growing up as a “military brat,” the need to serve was always a part of who you are. My siblings and I grew up spending holidays with other soldiers and their family members, and that was who became our family every time we moved locations. I always remember the tight bond between my siblings and parents growing up. We constantly had each others backs when tackling a new school and finding our place in the new community.
It really doesn’t surprise me that my brother graduated from the Alexandria Law Enforcement Program, my sister is an Airman for the U.S. Air Force, and I became a firefighter.

Q: What part of your job is the most rewarding and what part is the most challenging? 

A: Joining AFD has been one of the best and most rewarding decisions. I gained a whole new family and support system that I couldn’t be more thankful for. And not to mention meeting my fiancé and forever best friend. I am really excited to see where this career takes me and all the experiences and memories to come.

Q: What advice would you have for a young woman who is considering becoming a firefighter?

A: I would say go for it! Trying something new and challenging yourself has always been a good thing from my perspective. There is nothing you can’t do. If you ever have any concerns or if there is anything you feel you are struggling at, there is always someone willing to lend a hand and help you succeed. Most people in this field want to see you succeed, so firefighting comes with constant encouragement and enthusiasm. Not to mention the reward of serving your community and the family you gain through a department.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

A: In my free time, I couldn’t be busier. I run my own business 40-plus hours per week, I have a second part time job waitressing, I go to Nordic Warrior Boxing Academy at least once a week, I enjoy renovating and updating our home, I love going fishing with my fiancé, we enjoy weekends at the family campground or cabin in the woods, my canine child is always my favorite tag along, and I could never fulfill the amount of time I wish I spent with the horses.

Jennifer Olson

Jennifer Olson works at Beverage Wholesalers in Alexandria. She has been living in Alexandria for more than 10 years.

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Q: How long have you been with the Alexandria Fire Department and briefly describe your duties?

A: I joined the Alexandria Fire Department as a probationary firefighter in April 2018 and in April 2019, I was sworn into the department as a full-time volunteer firefighter. To become a firefighter you must first be able to pass the agility test. Once that is completed you need to take classes to learn general knowledge of the firefighting techniques, tools used and smoke patterns among many other important information. You then need to pass the Firefighter 1 and Firefighter 2 tests. Also you need to get your emergency medical responder certification. Classes continue throughout your entire department career so that you will always stay up to date with the latest tools and structures.

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Jennifer Olson
Contributed photo

Q: Why did you want to become a firefighter or what drew you to the job?

A: The reason I wanted to join the department was a desire to help the community. Also I wanted to be a strong role model for my kids.

Q: What part of your job is the most rewarding and what part is the most challenging?

A: The biggest reward of this job comes with the extension of my family. The department is such an amazing group of individuals. They are so welcoming and helpful. They always have your back whether on the fire ground or in your personal life. We take care of not only each other but also each other's families. The hardest part is seeing fellow community members in tough times, when they may have lost something close to their heart. Each call we go on imprints in your mind.

Q: What advice would you have for a young woman who is considering becoming a firefighter?

A: I definitely feel that if other young women are interested in joining the fire department and have the drive to work hard and help others, they should. It is worthwhile, very rewarding and humbling. You can do it if you have the right mindset and drive. Don't let anyone hold you back from doing what you want to do.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

A: In my spare time I like to go camping and hiking. I love to relax by the lake and watch my kids and my dogs have fun in the water. I also never miss out on going for a long motorcycle ride with my husband. If it wasn't for my family being there and so supportive of me, my dreams of being with the department would not be possible. They have always been my rock through the good and bad. I can't thank them enough for that.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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