Never Give Up on Your Dreams
Jacobs’ Journey to the Fire Service
While some may see it as a big deal for 20 year old Kody Jacobs to be on board as the first career firefighter for the City of Newberry Fire Department, for Jacobs it’s simply a passion that has been in her family and a job that she’s proud to have.
At the age of 14, Jacobs took the initiative to follow in her older siblings’ footsteps to join the Newberry Fire Department’s Explorer Program. For youth, the program is designed to introduce a younger generation to the fire service to gage their interest before getting to the volunteer level. Also in the fire service at this time was Jacobs’ father who was a volunteer for the department.
“I’ve been around it [fire service] my whole life, but I really knew nothing about it until I came to the Newberry Fire Department and started to experience it for myself,” Jacobs said. “It was then that I saw that this could be something I wanted to do.”
Fast-forward four years later to August 28, 2017 and Jacobs officially became Newberry Fire Department’s first female career firefighter on staff. However, Jacobs said the path from the explorer program to becoming a career firefighter wasn’t as straight and narrow as it sounds.
After graduating from Newberry Christian Academy in 2015, Jacobs said she attempted to go straight to the South Carolina Fire Academy, but was denied because at 17 years old, she was not old enough yet to begin the program.
One roadblock already in place, Jacobs decided to attend school at Greenville Technical College to be a part of their Fire Science program.
“After my first semester, Greenville Tech decided to cancel the program,” she said.
With the road towards her dream job not looking as promising as she had once hoped, Jacobs said she left school and started working another job, but in the back of her mind continued to push towards what she really wanted, despite the obstacles.
“To be honest, I kind of strayed away from it because it didn’t seem like it was in the cards at the time,” Jacobs said. “But then I saw that the Newberry Fire Department was hiring, and I thought that could be my chance.”
Applying for the firefighter position, receiving a callback for an interview, to then, accepting the position felt like destiny Jacobs said and the rest is history over one year later in the position.
Without having first experienced the work of the fire service through the department’s explorer program, Jacobs said she isn’t sure what career path she may have chosen as the program gave her a thorough review of what she would be signing up for as a firefighter.
“It gives you a glimpse into the fire service and what it’s like which definitely sparked my interest and really helped me decide in my late high school years what I really wanted to do for a career,” she said.
Gene Shealy, retention and recruitment coordinator for the City of Newberry Fire Department is heavily involved in the department’s explorer program and says that Jacobs is just one of many that make up their diverse department.
“Through our high school programs, explorer program and volunteers, we have become very diverse with several women joining these programs and it is something we hope continues to grow in the future,” Shealy said.
The investment in youth through the department’s high school programming as well as the explorer program is something that Fire Chief Keith Minick thinks is paying off.
“There is a lot of effort from our staff to educate these young men and women and to be able to draw from that pool is a success for us as they choose to transition to the volunteer and career world of the fire service,” Minick said.
As for Jacobs’ transition from the explorer program to career firefighter, just as others who have made similar transitions, Minick said he feels the department has placed in these young people a taste of something that is above and beyond giving back to the community.
“You’re in a professional environment to learn a trade that’s going to help your neighbor,” Minick said. “She, Jacobs, bit the hook, caught on and joined to make this her career. She has not only participated in the explorer program, but then gone on to the fire academy to train alongside every other firefighter, male or female to learn the needed skills. I commend her for her dedication and drive.”
Along with her work as an explorer prior to officially joining the Newberry Fire Department, Jacobs said training through the South Carolina Fire Academy was something else that heightened her drive to be the best she could in her dream career.
At the time of her acceptance with the department, came the eight-week training away from home, which she said unfortunately meant leaving behind her husband Richard and five-month-old daughter.
“She was like a different baby every time I came home,” Jacobs said. “Just being away from her and missing some of those precious moments was really hard, but I knew it would all be worth it.”
Upon her return, Jacobs said it was surreal being able to put that training to work through the different scenarios she encountered on the job.
“It’s not just a job, it’s just kind of like a dream job,” she said.
Training while on the job in Newberry is just as important as their training with the fire academy to Newberry Fire Department staff as Jacobs says the department is small and every staff member lends a hand to answer the call when needed. While Jacobs’ job title may be firefighter, on a busy day she could act on behalf of an engineer, whether that means pumping water from the truck to a fire or driving the engine to the next call.
To keep staff fresh and on their toes, the Newberry Fire Department completes training weekly on a range of difficulty levels, Jacobs said.
“It’s very easy to sit back and get complacent and forget even the simplest of training, so it’s always helpful to get refresher training,” she said.
As the fire service is one that is ever-changing, Minick said departments were seeing more women get involved and on the line and that it was exciting for Newberry Fire Department to have a full-time female career firefighter in the system for day to day operations as well as women involved as volunteers and in youth programming.
Unique not only in the state of South Carolina, but nationally, Minick said there had been a reduction of interest in volunteers and in the fire service in general and across the board what departments were looking for were those willing to learn the training and have the personality willing to give back to their communities.
“As we continue to grow, develop and change, hopefully we’ll see more females as well as diversity in the fire service,” he said.
Since coming on staff just over a year ago, Jacobs said she feels there has been an acceptance of the “new normal” of having a female on staff full-time. With this also being the first department Jacobs has ever been a part of, there has been a learning curve on her end as well, she said and felt the department had been really supportive.
Having grown up in Newberry, Jacobs said the best part about her career path has been giving back to the community that gave so much to her. From being in the explorer program, she said she has also enjoyed working alongside staff that taught her what she learned while coming up through the program.
The most important thing her journey to her career has taught her, Jacobs said is to never give up and to continue pushing for your goals.
“It’s not about fighting fire and getting to drive a fire engine fast, it’s about helping people and having a heart that wants to help others,” she said. “It may be difficult to achieve what you want, but never give up.”
Photographs by Ted B. Williams.