When people think of firefighters, they don’t always make a connection with the field of public health. But after graduating with a degree in health education and promotion (now offered as a bachelor’s in public health) at Boise State in 2005, Ashley Rosenbaum knew she wanted to apply her talents to firefighting. Since graduating she has risen in the ranks and was promoted to fire captain earlier this year. “There’s not a single day that the same thing happens [in this job]. It’s fun and exciting, and I get to help people every day,” Rosenbaum beams.
Firefighting is difficult and dangerous work, and sometimes requires her to be away from her family for several days in a row. But Rosenbaum’s job is more than just fighting structural fires. The Boise Fire Department also has a Regional Hazardous Materials Response team that covers a geography spanning from Mountain Home to McCall and beyond. In these calls, the team is exposed to everything “from mercury spills, suspicious white powders and chemical leaks” to large fuel spills.
As fire captain, Rosenbaum is not just protecting the victims of fire and hazardous waste – she’s also tasked with protecting the health and occupational safety of her team, in order to promote longevity in the job and maintain a high quality of life for EMT workers. “That’s a position that I take really seriously,” said Rosenbaum. “Firefighting is a dangerous job. Sometimes we have ways to mitigate and lessen those risks. Like, for instance, we wear air packs so anytime we go to a structure fire or in an environment that we know is compromised, we wear respiratory protection [in order to prevent smoke inhalation]”.
Firefighters must receive annual physicals to ensure they are fit for the job, and Rosenbaum and her team have daily fitness routines to stay up to the task. “It’s really important that we’re not only physically healthy but mentally strong,” she said, giving praise to the recent PTSD bill that passed in the Idaho Senate this February. The bill allows first responders to get health compensation coverage for mental injury they have sustained while on the job.
“I was always really passionate about Health and Fitness and Health Education” Ashley says, remembering her years at Boise State where she enjoyed classes in nutrition, physiology, and wellness program planning and implementation. It’s no wonder that one of her favorite duties is getting out into the community to promote her work. October was fire safety month so her team visited a number of elementary schools to promote fire prevention and safety. As the Boise Fire Department’s first female fire captain, she gets questions from kids that many male firefighters wouldn’t be asked to field. “I think my favorite question that I got was from a little girl. She raised her hand and asked if I could wear mascara at work in a fire. And I told her of course, you can wear as much makeup as you want in a fire and you’ll be perfectly safe.”
While Rosenbaum is busy at work, she is also paving the way for the next generation of EMT workers who show true dedication and commitment to the health and safety of their communities.
-By Chelsea Smith