CINCINNATI -- Almost two years after her first admission test, six months of drill school and nine weeks on the job, Keshia Terry is still waiting to fight her first fire.
The closest the 27-year-old came to putting out a blaze since becoming a Cincinnati firefighter was a vehicle fire. A coworker let her take the lead, showing her how to hold the nozzle and extinguish the flames.
The ordeal was over in minutes.
Her company has responded to several fire calls, but none have turned out to be actual fires. Since witnessing her first fire at drill school, she's been anxious to fight one of her own.
"I remember them saying my eyes were huge and wide open... taking everything in," she said.
Before her firefighting career took hold, the Cincinnati native dabbled in different careers ranging from a stint with the Cincinnati Reds to teaching preschool.
When she applied to be a firefighter, she was working as a valet supervisor at Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati. While she enjoyed her work, Terry knew she wanted to do more.
"I was never one to sit behind a desk or have a corporate job or anything like that. I liked the idea of having a different day every day so I took the test and kept passing...going through the process, and here I am."
Terry is a graduate of Recruit Class 112 , which is only the second class to graduate in fives years. A grant issued to the Cincinnati Fire Department in 2011 has allowed the department to fund new classes, and new jobs.
Word of the department's new hiring initiative ignited a frenzy in the summer of 2009. More than 5,000 applications were submitted for the 2014 class. But after a series of tests, which included a written exam, physical agility test and medical evaluation, only 41 were selected.
"To get the opportunity to get down to that number is essentially like winning the lottery," said Cincinnati Fire Department spokesperson Jennifer Spieser.
And, it's something that Terry doesn't take for granted.
"They showed us a picture at the end of class of everyone that had taken that initial test and to see all those people was just crazy. It’s still kind of surreal to think that out of everybody I was picked. There’s a lot of people to choose from and to be one of those people is special," said Terry.
For Terry the decision to become a firefighter was simple. She wanted to go into the Navy, but due to medical reasons, had to consider other options. A close friend and firefighter suggested that firefighting was as close to the military as she could get while still being near her family.
"I like the whole aspect of saving people as well as doing something for the greater good. If I'm going to work hard and put a lot of effort into whatever it is that I do, it might as well be towards helping people," said Terry.
Nearly two years passed from the time Terry submitted an application to when she graduated from drill school. But less than a week after graduating on Feb. 7, Terry began her career as a probationary firefighter at Station 12 in Camp Washington .
Under that title, Terry will spend the next year gaining as much hands-on experience as possible, until the time comes to take her final firefighter exam.
"She’s got to figure out the ins and outs of everything we do and find her role in the whole system...We basically live here for 24 hours and she’s got to figure out how it works," said Captain Mike Kirby of Station 12.
Kirby, a 20-year veteran, has been captain of the Station 12 for three years. While having a new firefighter can alter the dynamic of his team, Kirby runs daily drills with his company.
"You get to train more and refresh some of your own skills and help them learn what they have to do," said Kirby.
When Kirby calls a drill, everyone immediately drops what they're doing. Whether it's changing into fire protection gear while riding in the truck or practicing to carry hoses as fast as possible, each drill is treated as if it's a real event.
In her nine weeks on the job, one of the most difficult drills Terry has endured was carrying a 300-pound male coworker to safety.
She mustered all of her strength to complete the exercise --- a feat she's still proud of.
"When you feel like you have nothing else, there’s always more that you can give," said Terry.
This scenario, however, is a situation Terry could likely find herself in one day. The Cincinnati Fire Department, like many other cities, is a predominately male environment. Out of the more than 800 firefighters on staff, only 28 are women.
Terry is one of only two women employed at Station 12 and was only one of four in her recruit class.
But despite gender, everyone is expected to pull their own weight, and sometimes the weight of a fellow firefighter.
"You’re always looking out for your brother or sister next to you looking out to make sure they’re there and nothing has happened to them... 'I need to make sure there’s no holes in the floor, make sure there’s no windows, doors'...there’s so much going on in your mind that you don’t really have the time
to think ‘Oh there’s a girl next to me, let me make sure she can lift this out of the way,'" said Terry.
While some of her of her training techniques may be altered, like learning how to properly lift heavy equipment, at the end of the day her job description is the same as her brethren.
“She’s eager. She seems to want to do a good job and seems to care about the job she’s gotten into… If you care and want to do a good job, you’ll be fine... She’s strong enough to do whatever anyone next to her is doing," said Kirby.
Every shift Terry works side by side with her team from 7 a.m. to 7 a.m. the following day.
Terry's first day on the job was one she'll never forget. She had been at the station for just 20 minutes when a call for a house fire came over the scanner. Her heart was racing.
"I had absolutely no idea what to do and I felt like everything I had learned over the last six months had just gone out of the window," she said.
Before Engine 12 arrived, another company had already put out the flames. It was a small electrical fire. Her coworkers still walked her through protocol.
Fighting fires, however, is not the only aspect of her new profession. From car accidents to heart attacks, firefighters are first on the scene, and with each new experience, Terry is learning how to save lives.
"I like the...moments of bringing somebody back from a terrible situation. There are times when we’ve made runs for people who are in diabetic comas and to se them go from being completely unconscious and look like they’re on their death bed — they pop right back up, breathing, heartbeat— everything. It’s amazing to see," she said.
A man with swollen feet, a 14-year-old with a busted lip, a child with diaper rash, pregnant woman whose water broke, man found on a sidewalk, possible heroin overdose that ended in a man's arrest, and a heroin overdose in which a man was brought back to life. That's a list of runs she made of her first 24 hours on the job.
But with the good, comes the bad.
"A couple weeks ago we made a run on an auto accident. A 21-year-old literally wrapped his car around a telephone pole and was dead upon arrival, and just to see him in the car lifeless, it kind of puts a lot of things in perspective."
Now with nearly two months of experience, and ample coaching from her team, Terry feels more ready than ever to battle her first flame.
"That anticipation of 'Is today going to be the day,'' can be a little much. It’d be nice to be like, 'I did it. It’s out of the way,'" she said.
Below is a photo essay depicting a day in the life of Keshia Terry as a probationary firefighter at Station 12. WCPO photojournalist Emily Maxwell covered the graduation ceremony for Terry's recruit class in February and spent a full day with Terry at the fire house.
Keshia Terry was pinned by her mother, Julie Terry, during the graduation ceremony for Recruit Class 112 at the Cincinnati Art Museum on Feb. 7, 2014.
Keshia Terry sits on stage during the graduation ceremony for Recruit Class 112 at the Cincinnati Art Museum on Feb. 7, 2014. Terry was one of four women in her class. She began working at Station 12 shortly after her graduation.
Keshia Terry stands in front of the fire truck used by her company, Engine 12, at Station 12 in Camp Washington. Terry is a probationary firefighter who will spend the next year gaining experience before taking her final firefighter test.
Keshia Terry puts on her firefighter suit while riding in the back of Engine 12's fire truck during a drill. Captain Mike Kirby administers daily drills with his team.
Engine 12 responded to a report of a car accident involving a possible heroin overdose near the I-75 south ramp in Camp Washington on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The crash victim was not responsive when crews arrived, but the medic unit was able to revive him.
Probationary Firefighter Keshia Terry gets back in the Engine 12 fire truck after responding to a single-vehicle crash in Camp Washington on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.
The Engine 12 company makes a food run at the St. Bernard Kroger's on Kenard Avenue on March 5, 2014. Each crew member chips in money to buy enough food to cover their 24-hour shift.
Engine 12 firefighters take turns designing a menu for the fire house each shift. Each ingredient on the list is divided among the group to make grocery shopping as efficient as possible.
Cooking meals is an all-hands-on deck task at firehouses and Engine 12 is no exception. Everyone takes part in prepping the meal or cleaning the dishes. Keshia Terry says learning fire house etiquette, especially at meal times, has
been a difficult task in her nine weeks on the job.
Keshia Terry cleans up the kitchen at Station 12 while waiting on the lunch to finish cooking. Terry says cooking is not her strong point, so she tries to help out with the cleaning before and after meals as much as possible. It's important for the crew to leave the kitchen clean for the next shift.
Shortly after their lunch break, the fire house received a call for a report of a 77-year-old man with heart problems at a nearby nursing home on March 5, 2014.
Probationary Firefighter Keshia Terry helps prepare oxygen to give to a 77-year-old man having heart issues on March 5, 2014. Terry takes in as much training as possible when on a run in order to better prep herself for next year's final firefighter test.
Captain Mike Kirby runs a hose drill with his company on March 5, 2014. Kirby runs daily drills to help sharpen the skills of his staff and to prep Keshia Terry, a probationary firefighter, when the time comes for her to fight her first fire.
Captain Kirby debriefs with Keshia Terry after running a drill on March 5, 2014. Terry is spending the next year as a probationary firefighter and needs to gain as much experience as possible before her final firefighter test.
Keshia Terry folds a fire hose with her fellow firefighters after completing a drill at Station 12 in Camp Washington on March 5, 2014.
Engine 12 returns to the station after receiving calls for two runs on March 5, 2014. Keshia Terry takes off her firefighter gear to prep for the next run. She typically uses the down time to study until the next call comes in.
Every firefighter shift at Station 12 begins at 7 a.m. and lasts until 7 a.m. the next day. At 10 p.m. every shift, firefighters are allowed to sleep until a call comes into the station. This is a photo of Keshia Terry's bed.
Keshia Terry, a probationary firefighter at Engine 12, stands in front of the company's fire truck on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.