MURRAY, Ky. — It took more than 100 years, but the Murray Fire Department now has a female firefighter.
This historical occasion was set in stone recently when Shae McKinney, 25, received her MFD badge in the department’s annual badge ceremony Sept. 9 at the Robert O. Miller Conference Center. Providing an extra-special angle to this story was that her father, Dwain – a longtime deputy chief with Calloway County Fire-Rescue and the person who Shae said was her biggest influence in following this dream – was the one to pin that badge on her uniform shirt.
“There wasn’t anyone else I’d have rather had do it, either. It was the best day,” Shae recalled. “That was one of many ‘best days’ I’ve had this year, though.”
The most important of those days probably came in February when Shae, at 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 130 pounds, successfully passed MFD’s rigorous candidate agility test in which she completed eight tasks in 10 minutes, 20 seconds.
“I can remember my time that day,” she said. “All I know is that I was so excited, I probably would’ve tried it again if asked.”
McKinney said she is proud to be the first woman firefighter with MFD, but that is not what drives her. In fact, going back to her childhood years, where she would ride to fire scenes with her father, making history has not been a factor at all. She just wants to serve.
“Ever since I was little, all I’ve wanted to do was help people,” she said. “I’d be 7 or 8 and I’d ride in Dad’s pickup truck to a fire, but he would park far enough away for me not to able to see anything. I’d get perturbed about that and tell him, ‘Ah, c’mon Dad! I know what’s going on. Let me see!’
“I’d usually end up handing out water to the (firefighters), and I liked being able to do that because it felt like I was doing something.”
Murray Fire Chief Eric Pologruto recently reported that Shae is justifying her history-making status with the department. He said that she has performed very well in her few months on the job.
“You know what? She walks the walk,” Pologruto said. “She has demonstrated a superior commitment to learn how to be better each day and she is a hard worker. What’s really fun to see, though, is her excitement at being able to do this. She had a true desire to be a firefighter, and that’s not always evident in today’s society anymore, to have someone with that kind of passion.”
Pologruto came to Murray in 2011 after serving 20 years with the Fort Lauderdale Fire Department in south Florida, widely regarded as among the best departments in the country, numbering about 400 firefighters. When he arrived, Fort Lauderdale had about 60 women with that department.
“When I first started out, though, we may have had seven or eight, at the most,” Pologruto said, noting that a reason for Fort Lauderdale’s increase may have been its self-run ambulance service. “Here in Murray, though, we don’t run that, so you didn’t have that as a factor. It wasn’t anything real surprising, though, because when you looked at the applications that would come in, it was very rare that we had a woman apply. It just wasn’t something that was seen as being that important, as opposed to Fort Lauderdale.
“I’m glad it’s happened, though, because it’s always good to take a step like this to match the demographics of your area.”
Dwain said that while Shae does grasp the significance her employment with MFD has, that is not her top priority.
“She just wants to do the job, and I know she’s going to do that,” he said, noting that her CCFR experiences have included some rather rough scenes. “Last November, she was in the yard of the house on (Kentucky) 121 where (four members of a family were murdered). She was responsible for keeping people out. She also drove one of our tankers to a fire (where two people died) earlier this summer out east of Murray.
“In high school (at Calloway County), she was on the swim team there, and she has been part of our swift-water rescue team, and she’s been on several calls where people needed to be helped. She’s going to be fine.
“Really and truly, about the scariest thing we’ve had was that badge pinning,” he said. “I was really trying not to stab her with the pin, but we did all right. That was a proud moment.”
Murray Mayor Jack Rose said Thursday that he believes Shae’s hiring is something that could pave the way for additional women to become firefighters with MFD. He was in attendance for her pinning recently and said the moment did not escape him as to its importance.
“I think she’s gong to be an inspiration to a lot of young people, particularly girls, who come along and someday may say, ‘Hey! If she can do this, I can, too,'” Rose said. “Anytime you have something like this, I think it’s positive. We have had female police officers for several years here in the city, and I think the city has been good as far as being open to this kind of opportunity.
“I’ll tell you something else, though. I think she’ll be a very good firefighter. We were very lucky to have her come along. She had no difficulty with any part of the exams she’s taken, and had she not achieved those standards, she wouldn’t have been hired.”
Shae said she has had nothing but positive relations with her new teammates, but that probably should not have come as a surprise. She said she already knew “95 percent” of the men comprising Murray’s bravest.
That put Dwain at ease.
“Since then, I’ve had several of those guys come up to me and say the same thing: ‘Don’t worry about it. She’s going to be fine,'” he said.
Information from: Murray Ledger & Times, http://www.murrayledger.com