Montgomery County Fire Chiefs Association honors female firefighters for International Women’s Day

Historically, firefighting has been a male-dominated field, but the number of female firefighters has been on a steady increase every year. According to Women in Fire, approximately 40,000 women in the United States are currently active in the volunteer fire service.

Female firefighters are proving anyone can fight fires at their local fire company. For International Women’s Day, Montgomery County Fire Chiefs Association, which runs the recruitment website, is  spotlighting volunteer firefighters Jenna Thomas, Gabbie Saylor and Joan McDevitt.

Jenna Thomas
North Penn Fire Company

As a 30-year-old wife and mother of two, Jenna Thomas decided she wanted her own calling, something for herself. Eight years ago, as she was pushing her child’s stroller around the neighborhood, she heard the firehouse sirens go off.

“I took that as my sign and immediately sent a message to my local fire company to get more information,” said Thomas. “I stopped by on a drill night in 2015 and never stopped going.”

On her first night at North Penn Fire Company, as the firefighters were jumping on the trucks to respond to an emergency call, they yelled to Thomas, “You can stay or go.” When they got back from the call, they cheered, “You stayed!”

Since then, Thomas has balanced a full-time job, raising two kids and volunteering at the fire station.

“North Penn understands this is a volunteer position and often times I bring one of my kids to the drills or training,” said Thomas. “My kids feel as much a part of the North Penn family as I do.”

As her children get older, Thomas looks forward to dedicating more of her time to volunteering as a firefighter. Awarded Firefighter of the Year for her dedication to North Penn Fire Company in 2017, she currently serves as a firefighter and secretary for North Penn’s Board of Trustees.

“There’s been a shift at our firehouse and I’m proud to say we are a firehouse filled with sisters who bring each other up,” said Thomas.

Female firefighters serve as role models for other women and girls to join the ranks and excel in firefighting, a traditionally male-dominated field.

“If you have an interest in firefighting, don’t overthink it. Just join!” said Thomas. “Be confident, be trainable and be ready to put in the work.”

Gabbie Saylor
Centre Square Fire Company

Following in her father’s footsteps, seven years ago Gabbie Saylor joined her local fire company as a junior firefighter at the age of 16.

“My dad also started volunteering at Centre Square Fire Company when he was 16 years old,” said Saylor. “So, when I came along, he brought me to the firehouse with him.”

Growing up Saylor loved going to the fire station where the members felt like a second family and the station a second home. Her love for the people and the role of firefighters inspired her to join when she was old enough.

“Being a female firefighter isn’t always easy and you may face people that don’t believe women should be in the fire service,” said Saylor. “But that has become my motivation to show people that women can be firefighters, too.”

Saylor has her Firefighter I certificate, meaning she is trained to fight fires outside of burning buildings, as well as inside. When she’s not on emergency scenes, she helps out with community events and hall rentals at the fire company.

“To all the women out there interested in firefighting – just go for it!” said Saylor. “Just because you’re a female does not mean you can’t do what the men can do. Don’t let anything stop you.”

Joan McDevitt
Norriton Fire Engine Company

Joan McDevitt has been around the fire service for most of her life. When she and her husband, now chief, moved to East Norriton in the 1980s, she encouraged him to join.

In 2001, with her children out of the house, McDevitt found the time to dedicate to the fire service and joined Norriton Fire Engine Company at age 42.

“I didn’t think to do it for myself,” said McDevitt, but after riding along on the fire truck to one of the calls, she thought, “I could do this.”

She always thought of firefighting as something exciting to do and enjoyed the physical challenge of firefighting.

On top of staying physically fit, volunteering has provided McDevitt with many opportunities. One of her favorites was attending the first female firefighting conference in the state in 2003.

“At the conference I was able to watch Catherine Baker Knoll, Pennsylvania’s first-ever female lieutenant governor, speak about why female firefighters are so important,” said McDevitt. “She encouraged all the women in the audience to stick with it.”

McDevitt encourages other women to grow and expand their ability as a volunteer.

“Come out and give it a try because you’ll never know if you don’t,” she said. “I learned I could do things I never thought I could do.”

Inspiring others

Thomas, Saylor and McDevitt hope to inspire other women to join their local fire company and increase the number of female volunteers in Montgomery County.

“Anybody can join their local fire company,” said President of the Montgomery County Fire Chiefs Association, George Wilmot III. “We’ll gear you up and provide the necessary training at no cost to you.”

Could you be the next female firefighter in Montgomery County? Those interested can learn more or sign up at