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'I feel like I really belong': Tahlequah hires first full-time female fighter

sarah swayze tahlequah fire dept
Posted at 5:45 PM, Jul 08, 2024

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Sarah Swayze was voted on to the Tahlequah Fire Department, working her first shift on July 1.

She is the first woman firefighter with the department full-time in its nearly 130-year history.

“For the first time in 35 years, I feel like I really belong something and like I’m really doing what I’m meant to be doing and so, and it’s helping people,” said Swayze. “I just wanted to help people, and I thought that’d be a good way.”

For five years prior, Swayze was a middle school teacher in Tahlequah — but joining the fire service didn’t come out of left field.

She said she had her eye on firefighting since she was a child, and her grandfather fought fires.

“I always thought that was kind of cool, but there weren’t any girl firefighters then,” said Swayze. “I honestly never really considered it until as an adult and I just thought man that’d be really.. I could do that, I could do that, and I just did.”

Swayze is the first full-time female firefighter, but Fire Chief Casey Baker said other women had volunteered part-time for the department in the past.

Swayze, Chief Baker said, is a strong addition to his team.

“She’s one of those types of people who never meets a stranger,” said Chief Baker. “We are very proud that she’s in the department. I think she’s a good role model for females across our area, my daughter being one of them. I know when I got into this job as chief, my daughter hit me up a couple times, ‘Why’s there no female firefighters?’”

2 News asked Chief Baker why he thinks it took until now to have a woman join his team.

“It’s a difficult job; it’s not really marketed to females like it should, and we just don’t have a lot of females apply,” he said. “With all the requirements and stuff that we require being a volunteer and full time [department], and training, it’s just hard to get anybody to apply, then you add ‘female’ to it, it makes it even more difficult.”

Baker and Swayze acknowledged that a certain amount of responsibility comes with being the first.

Swayze’s goal is to be a role model for young girls in her community with any dream, especially those looking to break into a male-dominated field.

“I think about my students, you know, and I think about those girls,” she said. “I think about me whenever I was younger, and never really considering anything like this. They don’t really have anybody to push them that way, or to say, ‘hey that’s okay, or hey yeah, you can do it. It’s not that big of a deal. You can do it.’”

Swayze is a member of Tulsa Metro Women on Fire, a group for women in fire across the area.

They are hosting their ‘Camp Fierce’ in Tahlequah in October, which gives girls fifteen and older a hands on introduction to the fire service.

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