By Nicole Davis
Sasha Davis isn’t afraid to ask questions. As a firefighter/paramedic for the White River Township Fire Department, the constant quest for knowledge has not only made her better at her job, but also has helped her to earn the trust of her coworkers and become a go-to person within the department.
Davis was credited for this, along with her teamwork, respect, integrity and professionalism when she earned the recognition of 2018 Firefighter of the Year at the WRTFD Awards Banquet on Feb. 15.
“The most appropriate way to describe Sasha is her ‘relentless pursuit of excellence in all she does,’” wrote Carey Slauter in a nomination letter. “She strives to not only improve herself but others she works with every day.”
A lifelong interest
As a youth, Davis was no stranger to firefighters, as one of her friend’s parents were firefighters for the Indianapolis Fire Department. When she was shown a video about that career path at Central Nine Career Center during her sophomore year at Perry Meridian High School, she said it piqued her interest.
She earned her EMT and Firefighter 1 and 2 certifications her junior and senior years of high school, also joining the White River Township Fire Department as a cadet at 16 years old. She was hired part time at 19 in 2009, became a certified paramedic in 2012 and was hired full time in 2013.
Now 29, Davis has been in the field for more than 10 years. She is currently the only female full-time firefighter for WRTFD, although the department will hire one more this year.
While many traditionally male-dominated fields have seen a rise in female employees in recent decades, firefighting is one that remains low. Nationwide, only approximately four percent of firefighters are female, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“We have fewer female applicants,” WRTFD Chief Jeremy Pell said. “You (also) don’t see more female career firefighters in this department because we haven’t been full time for long. We hired our first full time in 1988. We hired our first big group in 2004, so this is a very young fire department.”
While male firefighters still significantly outnumber female on WRTFD, Pell said the department is different in that it has had female firefighters volunteering for a long time.
“They and a lot of other firefighters trained me,” he said. “That could be part of what shaped our department. This department has had female firefighters for over 30 years. We don’t know any different. … This is a little difficult for me to put into words, because I don’t see male and female firefighters. I see firefighters. Everyone that’s at the department has worked extremely hard to be here, and they’ve earned it.”
Aside from overcoming the physical obstacles that firefighters must pass to earn their certification, the job requires a lot of mental strength as well.
“The male dominated workplace was a little intimidating for me at first,” Davis said. “I did have some self-doubt in the beginning, and even had some people question how difficult this would be for me as a woman. As long as you have that mental strength and push through, that’s all that matters in this career. The men that I work with don’t care that I’m a woman. They care that I can do the job. Women can do anything men can. It’s a mental blockade in our brains. As soon as you get over that, it makes it much easier.”
What made her the most nervous coming into the profession, she said, was the vast amount of knowledge required. She wanted to earn the trust of her coworkers and she does this by continuing to learn every facet of the trade.
“I always want to know why something is the way it is, the inner working of how we solve a problem,” she said. “I’m always trying to figure out the answer to all of the questions. I want to make myself one of the strongest, more knowledgeable people on a run.”
Firefighters must have Emergency Medical Technician certification, although not as many pursue a paramedics license. Approximately 75 to 80 percent of WRTFD’s calls are for medical emergencies, Pell said. Davis being a certified paramedic is one example of how she has taken initiative to advance her education, making her an “invaluable part of the department.”
“Sasha has spent a lot of time learning this craft and continuously getting training,” Pell said. “She understands the skill of fighting fires very well and she is extremely dependable. … What’s neat is I’ve seen her grow through her actions, not her words. I’ve seen her grow from being behind the scenes and very quiet to being a vital part of the crew and one of those informal leaders that people will go to.”
Davis is not only viewed as an informal leader, but, according to Slauter’s nomination letter, “probably the most trusted person among our crew.”
“Sasha is the ultimate teammate,” he wrote.
Getting to know Sasha Davis
Hobbies: My fiancé and I like to travel. We have a Europe trip planned for later this year.
What advice would you give other women interested in the occupation?
They may be intimidated because this is a more physically demanding job but it takes more mental strength than anything. You will have people saying you can’t. You are in control of your limitations and how other people perceive you. Never stop if that is your goal.
What are your career goals now?
Improving upon my current skills that I have. I eventually would like to become an engineer, driving the engine. A long, long time from now maybe become an officer. I still have a lot more to learn so I just want to be a sponge and improve upon my skills that I have already learned.