Featured Female First Responder: Kellie-Jo Smith

"Be unapologetically you"

Meet Kellie-Jo, a Firefighter/EMT and professional photographer from Michigan. 
We asked Kellie-Jo if she would be apart of our "Featured Female First Responder" column where we ask women questions about what it is like being a female working in a males profession and what their advice would be to those who are aspiring to be First Responders. 

Tell us a little bit about you (the field you work in, a typical day, interests)

"I am a Firefighter/EMT in Michigan, I’m also a professional Photographer. I love all things fitness, puppies, and outdoor activities."


What got you interested in the field you work in?

Did you always want to be a First Responder?

"I didn’t always want to be a First Responder. I knew I wanted to be in the medical field and always thought I belonged in a hospital. Three years ago, I got into a very severe car accident and almost lost my life, if it wasn’t for the Firefighters, EMTs/Medics, and God I wouldn’t be here today. They made me realize saving lives really is what I want to do, and I knew from that moment I belonged in a Fire Department and not a hospital."


Are there any mentors that have shaped your life and your passion for your work?

"There are numerous mentors I could give credit to for shaping my life and helping me shape my passion but the biggest influence on my decision to pursue this career is Dennis Howe. He has inspired me and has always encouraged and pushed me to pursue my dreams."


What has been your proudest moment so far as a First Responder?

"That’s tough, I’ve been a part of many wonderful things. I would definitely say one of my top two moments was the day I saved my first life. It was completely unexpected, and it was one of my first weeks on the job. It sounds odd to some but being able to feel the pulse on a previously pulseless person and knowing that myself and my partner brought them back to life, was a real eye opener.

A few weeks later the amazing spouse of the person we saved sent a postcard with a photo of the two of them standing in front of the Grand Canyon with a little thank you note. I still have that letter and I still look at it on my worst days."


What advice would you give to the next generation of Female First Responders?

"Don’t be afraid to be you without any regret. I’ve run across so many women who quit the career or have considered quitting because of criticisms for how they look, dress, how strong they are, how small they are, etc.

Be unapologetically you, and DO NOT change for anyone. Life weights, wear makeup, feel proud to be a woman in a man’s career and continually hold your head up high. Oh, and if someone tells you that you can’t do something because “you’re a woman”, do it anyway and prove them all wrong.

It’s not about strength, it’s about technique."


Are there any organizations or events you are passionate about?

"A few come to mind quickly, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, and National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. All are near and dear to my heart."


What advice would you give to anyone (male or female) who wants to help people by becoming a First Responder?

"I would highly recommend going through a Fire Academy that offers LIVE FIRE training or you’ll graduate as a firefighter without having ever seen a fire. I’ll be honest, it is not easy. You have to be able to carry a lot of weight, and deal with a lot of tough days. There are also ups to this type of service, you gain a second family, you get to serve your community and you can be proud to put on a uniform that has Honor behind it. I weigh 120 lbs. outside of gear and I weigh 250 lbs. with full gear, full tools and all equipment needed to fight fire, so it is definitely not a “light” job.
If your heart isn’t fully in it, don’t do it because it is not an easy thing and it is not for those that don’t absolutely love it. That is not said to be mean or discouraging, I have just seen it happen where everyone wants to do it and then they end up not loving it because it is not the easiest, prettiest, or most well-paying job. I volunteer on a hometown department and I also work part time on another department, so I get two completely different experiences daily. I love it and I always will, but you have to be able to deal with seeing things you’ll never un-see and being able to get over it and throw your emotions to the side and talk it out when you need to. Don’t act tough, because at some point you’ll break from everything that’s happened.
I’ve seen things most can’t handle, and I got to bed at night knowing there were some people I just couldn’t save. Sure, that haunts me, but every day I get up and I fight harder to be the best and to save more lives. If you ever need advice, ask me, or any of your local firefighters. If you struggle, never be afraid to ask for help, I promise everyone is more than willing.
You’ll do amazing if you fully apply yourself and commit.
Don’t sweat the small stuff."