We interviewed six women from Moncure Fire about their experiences as firefighters in a male-dominated profession
By Dolly R. Sickles | Photography by John Michael Simpson
If the future is female, then Moncure’s fire department is ahead of its time, with six women making up 16.2% of its total crew. That’s double the national average, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
“It doesn’t feel radical to me,” says Fire Chief Robert Shi. “I think our diversity makes us stronger and better able to relate to the diverse population we serve.”
Robert says Moncure Fire Station 8 has a total force of 37 men and women, including volunteers, who cover nearly 86 square miles of rural, unincorporated community – which includes parts of New Hill – with an estimated population of 3,400 people. Meet a few of those women who help provide a lifesaving service:
CALL TO ACTION
Gracie George is doing all she can as a full-time firefighter in Apex and as a volunteer in Moncure. At 23, she’s the youngest of this group of female firefighters.
She began considering it as a career around her junior year in high school. “Firefighting sounded fun to me, though it isn’t well-advertised to women coming out of high school as a career,” Gracie says. “The adrenaline, the unique schedule, the amazing team aspect of it all – it all sounded perfect for me. When I mentioned my idea to family and friends, many of them discouraged the idea because it was either too dangerous or I’d be working with a bunch of guys. So I listened to them and pursued nursing instead.”
It didn’t take her long to discover that nursing wasn’t her calling, so she revisited firefighting and began volunteering. “Firefighting is far more than just putting out fire,” Gracie says. “You’ve got to be sharp on your skills in emergency medical care, vehicle extrication and public safety, to just name a few.”
In Apex, Gracie is one of only three female firefighters. “The dynamics are very different between the two departments as each truck in Apex is very specialized for the tasks it’s meant to accomplish [since it’s a larger station]. In Moncure, the engine carries far more tools for things like extrication because of the lack of personnel, so the engine has to function in far more capacities than an engine would somewhere else,” she says. “As a firefighter, my role is to be ready to perform whatever task is assigned to me when we arrive on scene.”
Carla George, Gracie’s mom, spent the past 25 years as a self-professed stay-at-home, home-schooling momma of four (and a grandmother of three). When her last daughter goes off to college this fall, Carla will head to the fire academy to complete her certifications so she can work with a local fire department. “I have always been a fan of firefighting, but growing up in the generation I did, it was something I would have never considered for myself,” Carla says. “My dad was a volunteer firefighter many years ago, and we always had a heart for supporting what they were doing, but until my daughter began volunteering with Moncure, it was just something I never thought I could or would do.” But that all changed a couple of years ago when she began accompanying Gracie to the fire station, and several of the full-time firefighters nudged her to volunteer, too.
“I would love to encourage young girls to consider firefighting as a career,” Carla says. “If you’re thrilled with the thought of never knowing what a day may look like and wired for excitement, this may be a great option for you. For men, I would say give the girls a chance. Push them to be the best and strongest versions of themselves. Treat them as you would any other colleague. Recognize our unique qualities and what we can bring to a scene.”
A DIFFERENT RESPONDER
Laurie Preston is a volunteer firefighter and one of two chaplains providing counseling to trauma victims at the scene. By day, Laurie, 59, is a licensed clinical health professional with her own private practice in Sanford, and she lives in Moncure with her husband, Scott Preston.
Laurie says she herself had three impactful instances with first responders. “At a young age, a police officer carried me out of an abusive situation to safety,” Laurie says. “In my late 20s, I was traveling and hit an icy patch and went airborne over a tall snow bank. I was trapped in my car on a Christmas tree farm. But the most emotional incident was the ice storm of 1998 in northern New York, where I was trapped for two weeks with my family, with no power. I still get tears thinking about the sight of the trucks that came from the south to assist. First responders were there on some of my worst days, and I’m thankful to give back to my community.”
Laurie says many first responders are also affected by the emotional toll of any tragedy. “Everybody has to carry a bag of stuff they have to deal with, but first responders have more,” she says. “I hope we get to a day [when] mental and spiritual health is talked about and [is] just as important as physical health. Because if COVID-19 shows us anything, it’s that first responders never got a break. They never got a chance to process all those people they took to the hospital who never came home.”
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
Anita Harrell-Fiks says her full-time job as the North America biosafety manager at BASF in Morrisville keeps people and the environment safe. She has a similar mindset in her volunteer work as a Moncure firefighter.
“I have always done a lot of volunteering,” Anita says. “Since I’ve been an adult, it’s always been a part of my life. I like connecting with people, helping people.”
She found her way to firefighting through her husband, Gerald “Gerry” Fiks, who has been a volunteer firefighter with Moncure since 2007. The pair married in 2009, and Anita soon became interested in joining him there.
“I had done hazmat and first-aid teams at BASF, and for the first year and a half of our marriage, Gerry didn’t want me to do this [firefighting] because there weren’t any women firefighters,” she says. “He suggested I try the ladies auxiliary, and I thought, ‘This isn’t me.’” Anita instead trained as an EMT and began volunteering with the fire department. She enjoys being in the middle of the action rather than on the sidelines of an auxiliary group.
“I started as a volunteer firefighter when I was 50,” Anita says. “A lot of people I work with are younger than my kids. There are more [women] now, over the last 11 years. When I started, I was the only one.”
BE THE INSPIRATION
Madison Jordan witnessed an accident in 2016 when a pickup truck struck a pedestrian in Durham. At the time, she was a nursing student at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina, and the event changed the trajectory of her life.
“I stayed on scene until help arrived and I could give my statement [to police],” Madison says. “Watching fire, EMS and law enforcement work together caused me to want to be the first responder as opposed to the person waiting in the hospital for some[one] to come in [for care].”
The experience was so profound that she dropped out of nursing school and went into the fire academy that same year. Many of her fellow students already knew one another, and she was the only woman.
“At first, the hardest part of training was physical,” she says. “Trying to keep up with the men was challenging, but you learn different tricks when it comes to carrying tools and pulling hose.”
When she graduated from the fire academy in April 2017, she started working part time with Moncure Fire and then took a full-time position with Surf City Fire Department in 2018. In 2020, Madison entered the police academy.
Today Madison, who lives in Sanford, is a full-time police officer with Morrisville Police Department and a part-time volunteer firefighter with Moncure Fire. She’s also finishing up her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Mount Olive and plans to graduate this summer. Her husband, Avion Jordan, is a police officer for the City of Creedmoor. Avion says he loves that Madison enjoys more than one field of public safety. And he’s proud that their infant daughter, Aurora Jordan, will see her mom charting a path for more women in the future.
Katie Bond, 29, is the newest member of Moncure’s fire department. She came on board as a part-time member of the duty crew in April. In 2013, Katie started volunteering part time with a fire and rescue district in Harnett County, where she grew up, and began working full time in 2017. “When I first started in Harnett, I was the only female,” Katie says. “About 1½ years in, they hired another female, but there was only one or two of us in the department at any given time.”
Then, there’s Moncure. “[Firefighting] is definitely a male-dominated field, and while I feel like there are a lot of men who don’t want that to change, Moncure is different. They do want to see more females. They’re very progressive.”
Katie and her wife, Lindsay Holt, live in Lee County with four dogs plus a cat and have dedicated their lives to helping people. By day, Katie is a detention officer with the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office. Lindsay is a 911 dispatcher with Chatham County and a firefighter/EMT in Lee County.
“For almost a year, the only time we saw each other was in passing,” Katie says, with good humor. “But we made a point to stop and talk for a few minutes every day on the way to or from work.”
Life in the emergency services is demanding, and efficient calendaring certainly helps maintain a manageable work-life balance. Katie thrives in the adrenaline rush of getting a call and helping people across the board.
“Just follow your dreams,” she says to anyone interested in pursuing a life in emergency services. “Don’t stop working toward them if somebody tells you that you can’t do something – prove them wrong.”