When people think of firefighters, they don’t always make a connection with the field of public health. But after graduating in 2005 with a Boise State degree in health education and promotion (now offered as a bachelor’s in public health), Ashley Rosenbaum knew she wanted to apply her talents to firefighting. Over her 12-year career, she has risen in the ranks of the Boise Fire Department. Earlier this year, Rosenbaum was promoted to fire captain. She is the first female fire captain in the department’s 143-year history.
“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 said.
In general, firefighting is difficult and dangerous work that occasionally requires her to be away from her family for several days at a time. 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. When responding to these calls, the team is exposed to everything from mercury spills, suspicious white powders, chemical leaks and large fuel spills.
As fire captain, Rosenbaum is not just protecting victims, she’s also tasked with protecting the health and occupational safety of her team.
“That’s a position that I take really seriously,” she said. “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,” Rosenbaum said.
She praised the first responders’ post-traumatic stress disorder bill passed by the state legislature this year. The bill allows first responders to more easily access health compensation coverage for mental stresses they have sustained while on the job.
October was fire safety month. Rosenbaum’s team visited a number of elementary schools to promote fire prevention and safety. As the department’s first female fire captain, she’s helping reshape people’s assumptions about what a successful firefighter looks like.
“I think my favorite question that I got was from a little girl,” Rosenbaum said. “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 also is paving the way for the next generation of emergency medical technicians who are dedicated to the health and safety of their communities.
– By Chelsea Smith