This morning, I read in our local paper that our little southwest Florida town of Punta Gorda has a new fire chief, Marianne Taylor. For the first time, a woman will lead the community's firefighters and paramedics.
The news took me back to our hometown of Findley Lake more than 40 years ago.
At the time, the village, like many other small towns across the region, depended on local men to respond in case of a fire or emergency. But, like many other small towns, most of Findlley Lake's men worked outside the area during the day, leaving very few to answer daytime calls.
We had just moved to town when that fact became painfully clear to me. I found myself at an emergency scene and realized there was nothing I could do to help.
I learned that Jack Elliott, who was the head of the rescue squad at the time, was planning to teach a Red Cross First Aid course at the fire hall.
I decided to sign up. And, when I explained to some of my lady friends what I saw as a need in the community, three other local women signed up, too.
For Carol Elliott, Linda Good, Lois Sphon and myself, our goal was to get the training, then apply for membership in the Findley Lake Fire Department.
We were not exactly welcomed with open arms. Just the idea of women entering what had been an all male "club" set off lots of controversy among the local firefighters.
One long-time member was even heard to say he was sure there would soon be "curtains in the fire engine windows."
But, with such a dire need for daytime coverage, cooler heads prevailed, as they say, and the four of us were finally accepted as the first ladies to enter the Findley Lake Volunteer Fire Department.
Through the years, a parade of sisters followed our lead ... Elaine Johnson, Barb Jenkins, Darlene Dunlap, Jackie Johnson, Sherry Reed, Phyllis TenBuckel and many others. Each contributed to the growth and strength of Findley Lake's squad.
When Findley Lake's volunteers were called to barn fires, house fires, grass fires as well as accidents on the roads, on area farms, on the ski slopes, we stood shoulder to shoulder with our male counterparts to help protect property and lives.
Now, 40 years later, women serve in virtually every fire company in the county, the state and across the country. Although the numbers are still small, these ladies play a key role in covering the communities they serve.
Findley Lake's late long-time fire chief, George "Bus" Bradley, was in charge of the company when we four joined. He came to regard the lady firefighters and rescue volunteers among the most important improvements in the fire service during his tenure.
Today's Findley Lake chief, Jack Hamilton, agrees with Bus' wisdom and has issued an open invitation to area women to join in the important work of the company.
I can tell you from my own 18 years as a Findley Lake firefighter and New York State certified EMT, there are few experiences as rewarding as helping your neighbors in time of trouble.
So, to all you women living in Findley Lake ... and the surrounding small towns in the region ... here's your chance to give back to your community. You have the power to make a difference.