It takes a lot for a female to work in a male-dominated profession, but it takes that much more to be the leader of them all.
From an entry-level firefighter to Fire Chief, Kerri Donis, is the first woman to hold the position in the Fresno Fire Department’s history.
It took a lot of work and strength for her to move up through the ranks because in the firefighter world, the majority of the crew are male.
According to the US Department of Labor, nationwide only about 4% of firefighters are women.
Over the years, departments have attempted to recruit females, but the numbers remain low.
Is it the status quo or because men are said to be physically stronger?
Whatever the reason may be, women can be firefighters and even leaders of the whole department — just like Fire Chief Kerri Donis who has been in charge for five years now.
“I really never thought ‘I am going to be the fire chief someday,’ I thought ‘I am going to do the very best I can at each rank I held,'” said Kerri Donis.
Today she wears her fire chief badge with pride, but getting it didn’t come easy.
It took a lot of hard labor, and it required proving herself.
“The truth is you do. The men would look at us, and there was three of us that came on at the same time, and I could see them looking to see if we could do what all the other guys were doing. And once you get past that proving of yourself and you are consistent, you’re part of the team,” Donis said.
Donis joined the Fresno Fire Department in 1996 as an entry-level firefighter, then she moved up as Deputy Fire Chief for more than 8 years.
She’s been in Fresno with the department her whole firefighting career.
She’s a Fresno State grad who played softball in college.
Today she said the skills she learned in sports helped shape her career.
“You have to be mentally and physically tough, and you have to be disciplined and have a work ethic and be a team player. As a student athlete I had done that my whole life and so it was a very natural fit to be in the fire service,” said Donis.
As Fire Chief, her goal is to educate young women about the job.
She said she would like to see more females be a part of her department.
“Women can do this just as well as man can — and even offer some other skills sets that maybe men can’t offer in this profession,” she said.
Donis hopes to inspire young women to pursue a career in firefighting.
To achieve that she is holding a Girl’s Empowerment Camp, it’s the first of its kind.
“We’ll show women what it’s like to haul the chainsaw, what it’s like to put the turn outs, and crawl and use a hose,” she said.
If after the day’s training firefighting isn’t what interests them, then at least she hopes they will walk away with a strong mindset.
She hopes they will strive for more, set goals for themselves, work hard and achieve them.
“Don’t let anyone get in your way saying ‘you can’t do that.’ The sky is the limit. Have a can-do and never-give-up attitude. It takes a lot of work to achieve success, and those deposits each and every day to achieve that goal will only pay off in the end,” Donis added.
Being a female firefighter requires mental and physical strength.
They must carrying heavy equipment, keep their head held high and most importantly they keep our community safe.