Jayci Jacks stands out in her class.
She is the lone female graduate in Norman Fire Department academy's recent class of 16 and is only the third female firefighter ever on staff, Norman Deputy Fire Chief Mike Wilson said.
"I've always tried to do stuff that challenged me physically," said Jacks, 34. "It's surreal. It feels like I was having to bite my nails and wait," while others times, it felt like time flew by.
Jacks formerly worked as a teacher, coach and in sales. She was looking for a new career when a female friend, who previously served as a firefighter, told her about the job and said she would be a good fit. Jacks looked into it, got an emergency medical technician certification and fell in love with the job.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that 4% of career firefighters were female in 2017, the most recent data available. About 9% of volunteer firefighters were female that year.
The Norman Fire Department hired a female firefighter in 2015 and she retired about two years later, Wilson said. Another woman was hired around 1978 or 1979 and stayed on for about three years, he said.
Firefighting is becoming an occupation that more woman are getting interested in, Wilson said, and the Norman Fire Department has seen an uptick in female applicants over the past four to five years.
According to Women in the Fire Service Inc., which was founded in 1982, the first female career firefighter was hired in 1974. Today, about 11,000 women in the nation work as career firefighters and officers, with about 40,000 in the volunteer, paid-on-call, part-time and seasonal sectors. Also, women serve as chiefs of fire departments in every region of the U.S.
Five of the 75 candidates for the department's recent 16 openings were women, Wilson said. Two of female candidates passed the testing and made it to the interview phase, and only one woman was hired and sent to the academy. Starting pay for new recruits is $47,640 a year.
Jacks said she knew some of the other women who applied for the academy, and they each are hard workers. She said she has worked out her whole life, including CrossFit, and she added strict strength and upper body strength to her exercise regimen.
"It's taxing. It takes a lot of strength. I trained hard beforehand," said Jacks, who joined Station 1, 411 E. Main St. on Oct. 25.
Jacks said her fellow firefighters don't treat her much different.
"The guys are really awesome. They're inclusive. We're one big family," she said.
Over the 16-week course, she said the academy students were provided an arsenal of tools to help them learn the job, including working with ropes, hazmat, confined spaces, swift-water rescue, high-angle rescue and inside self-contained breathing apparatuses.
Wilson said the training and testing process -- which began in January -- included physical tasks such as three-mile daily runs, pushups, sit-ups, calisthenics, hands-on training and picking up and carrying a heavy dummy to a destination. It also included reading manuals about firefighter essentials, which covers a myriad of basic skills.
The graduating class puts the fire department at 150 firefighters, Wilson said. The recruits are filling vacancies that the department incurred.
Each graduate has now been assigned to one of three shifts -- A, B or C -- and assigned to one of Norman's nine fire stations. Five graduates are in Shift A, six in Shift B and five in Shift C. No two recruits are at the same station at the same time. Firefighters serve 24-hour shifts, with usually a day or two off in between.
The graduates are training on the job now and will be evaluated in six months and again at the one-year mark before they are no longer considered recruits, Wilson said.
Jacks said some duties -- besides responding to calls -- include keeping the station clean, learning about tools, fire trucks and medical equipment. She said they receive quite a few medical calls each day.
Jacks said she is gaining new experiences and is trying her best to learn about her new job and push her limits. She also takes in as much information from other calls as she can so she can learn from them.
Jacks works with Assistant Chief Mark Castell and Capt. Chris Atteberry at her station.
"It's been a really great experience," she said, adding that she hopes to see an increase in the number of women firefighters.
Jacks said any other women or girls considering a career as a firefighter should reach out to fire department volunteers, get an emergency medical technician certification, work hard, train hard and keep a good attitude.
"I hope they see potential to push themselves," she said.
Jamie BerryFollow me @JamieStitches13jberry@normantranscript.com