It’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m trying to keep my eyes open sitting in the back of the Engine. It’s fire watch detail, and my crew and I are monitoring a house so that it doesn’t rekindle; it burned earlier today.
If you asked me years ago when I had a relaxer if I ever would have been a firefighter, I would have said heck no. Why would I ever want to be around fires and have my hair constantly exposed to extreme conditions?
Yes! I can safely say that was one, singular, thought along with considerations about the danger of the job, being responsible for people’s lives and the twenty-four-hour shifts.
I told Emily that I would share my hair story because I thought it would be interesting to compare notes with other women who have jobs that aren’t sedentary and that may involve a little grit, sweat, and tons of water.
When I finally decided to go natural, and enter the fire service hair was not much of a factor at least so I thought. As a matter of fact, I remember being conscious of the fact that I did not or could not care what my hair looked like because I was focused on my job and I wanted to do well.
Years later, thinking back I realize that I have been making decisions and compensating for my natural hair the entire time. My hair has played a very important role in my life even during the times I thought I did not care too much about it.
Let me explain: when I used to personal train, before entering the Fire Service, I noticed a trend. My straight hair tended to attract more clients. Sad but true! I literally made more money when my hair was straight.
In the fire service my straight hair brings more positive attention, it is almost like I am more respected in the line of duty, at least that’s what it feels like. I know not to confuse admiration with respect but the attention is so real that I can definitely make the distinction between reactions to my natural hair versus my straight hair.
Then there is the other side of the coin where even if your hair did look great you would not get a compliment at all because of gender equality kind of a thing in the service as well. In other words, if you aren’t throwing compliments at the guys then do not expect them just because you are a woman.
One of Em’s main questions for me was my daily hair care which is pretty important. I always without fail check the weather before deciding on a style, I would typically stretch my hair, but if there was rain or even a little fog on the horizon I would know that putting my hair up and away for the day is the best option because frizz is not my friend.
I always carry hair bands and clips around for when things get hectic and the weather is crazy. That isn’t all, though, product selection is also important.
Some products might be flammable and if I am around a fire on any given occasion that probably wouldn’t make for a great day. This means that most of my products have to be all natural or almost all natural to avoid any unnecessary mishaps. If I cannot read most of the ingredients on the back of a product chances are I won’t use it at all.
There’re other times that I have to factor in my hairstyle because my hair in its natural state might not fit under my helmet or my face mask may not fit to get the proper seal which is important for fire protocol.
In my firehouse, I am the only black woman with natural hair so wearing a bonnet to bed or a head tie will 100% guarantee that I am called “Aunt Jemima” at least once by someone trying to be smart.
I used to actually take my head tie off to go to the bathroom because I was insecure about wearing it in the common areas of the house.
I will at this point mention that in a sense my job does affect the health of my hair because I am constantly around water or smoke and constantly sweating.
This means I have to make time for quick washes at the fire house which may mean less time for conditioning. My hair ties tend to tangle with my wet hair which can lead to breakage and I have noticed more gray hairs than usual from some of the stress that comes with the work.
It is funny how you never realize how much of a factor hair can be until you start to think about it. Compensating for my hair has become second nature and I’m still somewhat actively seeking solutions for more growth and ways to maintain my hair’s health.
One thing’s for sure! At the end of the day, the job reigns supreme and I love what I do. My adventures as a Fire woman will never boil down to what my hair looks like when duty calls. I love my natural hair but I also love the mission to act on behalf of the community I serve.
My department has been ranked one of the largest in employed female career firefighters in the country and I wouldn’t trade my fire family and the job for the world.
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