Austin resident Sarah Hardnette, 34, became a firefighter for District 2 in 2021. She recently spoke with us about the journey.
On her motivation to become a firefighter
As a child, I saw my friend get saved across the street in a fire, which prompted me to want to become a firefighter. She got burned and was stuck in the house. Her ears were burned and they saved her. The next day, there was a fire drill at my school and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool.’ I told the firemen, ‘I just saw you guys yesterday.’ They were like, ‘No, you probably saw someone else.’ I said that’s what I want to do when I grow up. They said, ‘Sweetheart, you’re never gonna do this. It’s a man’s job.’ But If you tell me I can’t do it, I’m gonna do it. That was my motivation for me. I was always told it would be difficult as a female – and a Black female at that.
On the challenges
Well, I was told to become a paramedic first because it would be easier for a Black female to become a firefighter, so that’s what I did. Three months shy of graduating paramedic school, I got hit by a car and dragged down the street. I got kicked out of the paramedic program because I couldn’t ride in the ambulance, so I had to start again. I went to Malcolm X’s paramedic school, worked for a [private ambulance company] for five years, and became a vent medic there. I took a leave of absence afterward because my daughter was very sick, and I started my own business as a general contractor and gave up the medical stuff because the Chicago Fire Department hadn’t called me yet.
But right when I was about to give up, they called. Mind you, this was a seven-year gap between when I applied [to be a firefighter] and when they called.
On the training process
The training was six months, and three of those months were EMT training, which was training I already knew. The other three months were spent learning the fire truck. That training was the hardest thing I did in my life. The work wasn’t so hard; it was pushing through people’s expectations and doubts. The pressure from Black people counting on you and the pressure from females counting on you, while having pressure from others feeling like you shouldn’t be there.
On being the only female firefighter in the district
I have four brothers so I’m used to it. They’re like my brothers.