New Albany adds first two female firefighters to department

Firefighters Raevonne Seawright, left, and Taylor Rumsey


The New Albany Fire Department made history not once, but twice, this past week as its first certified female firefighter and female volunteer went on duty.

While county fire departments have had female members, New Albany has not.

The volunteer may be familiar to many. She is Taylor Rumsey of Myrtle and comes from a public service family since her father is in law enforcement.

The full-timer is Raevonne Seawright. A native of North Dakota, family employment brought her to the Starkville area and she has since moved to the Tupelo area.

Both enthusiastically see firefighting as their calling.

“I’ve always been interested in helping others,” Seawright said. “I have a strong work ethic and like pushing myself. On somebody’s worst day I can help make it a little better.” Then there’s that adrenaline rush with the job, she added.

She worked as a volunteer at the Sherman department before here and has been employed fulll-time at the Water Valley Fire Department since February. She was tested on her first day at Sherman. “I got out for a train versus car,” she said. “I was part of the extrication team. Then, later that day there was a truck hanging off the bridge.”

Rumsey got an abrupt introduction here as well. Her first call involved a horrific fatal collision between a passenger vehicle and 18-wheeler.

Although only 19, she was unfazed. “Blood doesn’t bother me,” she said.

“Daddy (Terry Rumsey) was in the police. Since I was 10-plus years old and he worked in the county, every time he went out he took me,” she said. “My dad has been a firefighter since the day I was born and ever since I was walking I was going.”

Seawright’s interest just came from a desire to serve; there were no firefighters in her family.

Both are clear about making this a career and both want to progress as much as possible.

“I want to go to school in the fall to become an EMR (Emergency Medical Responder),” Rumsey said. After that would come Emergency Medical Technician certification and possibly Paramedic training.

Seawright is already part of the way there with EMR certification but would like to achieve Paramedic status as well.

But it’s all about service.

“You can’t be in it for the money,” Seawright said. “It’s not just a job.”

“It takes a lot of heart,” Rumsey added.

Because they are females, the question might arise as to whether they can handle the job physically.

Emphatically, yes.

Seawright went through the training academy with her male counterparts and received no special consideration because everyone must be able to perform the same tasks. “I was just one of the guys,” she said.

Rumsey said that being a girl is a challenge, but Deputy Chief Mark Sides that when she took the qualifying test she outperformed some of the males in several categories. In fact, about the only challenge was pulling a 165-pound dummy while wearing a 50-pound vest. Although she said she only weighs in at 98 pounds, Sides said the dummy test is as much technique as strength and she is learning that.

“Pulling the dummy was not so bad,” she said. I was not scared at all. I can do it.” (The test includes carrying heavy equipment, dragging heavy hose for at least 75 feet and running a mile and a half, for instance)

Both women have roughly the same daily schedule. Because Rumsey is not a certified professional she cannot ride in the trucks. “But I can show up, and when I get there I can do the same as everybody else,” she said.

She hangs around a lot. “I want to learn every day,” she said.

Although one might think firefighters have a lot of down time between calls, they have plenty of duties to keep them busy.

The routine includes checking the trucks to make sure they are operating properly, that tools are properly stored, that the station is maintained. They have at least 30 minutes of exercise workout each day and new training is added often. Air bottles need to be filled and, because they do fight fires, clothes and equipment may need to be cleaned.

Both women repeated the importance of helping people. “Sometimes you feel like your heart goes out to them,” Rumsey said. The first Myrtle fire she went to was a house fire and she felt for the family, driving her to try harder.

“The second fire, I was masked up and there before the chief was,” she said. County volunteers by their nature show up at different times.

The nature of the work can be a challenge in itself.

New Albany firefighters work 24 hours on and 48 hours off.

Although neither has been at the station long, fellow firefighters are respectful and act professionally.

“We’re just one of the guys,” both agreed again.

Deputy Sides had no qualms about either’s qualifications; they meet the same standards as males.

However, they do differ in some positive ways.

“When you do work wrecks and fires, sometimes people are more comfortable talking to women. Kids especially.”

“Some little girls don’t want to talk to men,” Rumsey agreed.

Sides counts it a bonus that in addition to their firefighting skills, the women will be invaluable in education and public service.

The interview with the two did not conclude but rather was interrupted – by a fire call, the first official one for the two with New Albany.

And at the fire scene, an observer could not really identify either female. They were all nearly identical in their turnouts, helmets and masks – all just firefighters.

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