CRYSTAL LAKE – Jean Boehmke knew she was walking into a male-dominated world when she first entered the firefighting profession.
The Nunda Rural Fire Protection District firefighter said it is not always easy to be viewed as an equal and there are times women in fire departments have to prove it, but it is a challenge she knows her oldest daughter can tackle.
Her 19-year-old daughter, Ashley Woodruff, is in a minority in her McHenry County College fire science class as one of only two women, the shortest in the class at 5 feet, 4 inches tall, and one of two hopeful second-generation firefighters.
Although two of the distinctions have their disadvantages, growing up around firefighting has been a major advantage for the youngest student in the group.
“She’s been around it all her life,” Boehmke said. “The only concern I have is she’ll want to go in with blinders on because a lot of these young firefighters want to run before they walk.”
As the daughter of a firefighter, Woodruff had plenty of preparation leading up to her training at McHenry County College.
When she was in high school, she joined the Explorers Club in Wonder Lake, attended several fire training summer camps and participated in the University of Illinois Explorer-Cadet program.
It was then Woodruff knew what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
“For a little while I wasn’t really wanting to follow in my mom’s footsteps, but then I went to those camps and fell in love,” Woodruff said. “You really have to love this career to be in it. It’s more of a lifestyle than a job.”
Doug Goostree, MCC fire department chairman, said children of firefighters bring an understanding and passion to the profession that is beneficial.
“I think kids grow up watching their parents helping others and giving back to the community, it is a pretty cool career path,” he said. “The job is certainly not for everyone, but it is very rewarding.”
The other second-generation student in the class is a familiar name to Goostree, who served as chief of the Elk Grove Village Fire Department while the student’s father served there.
Matt Sigler has seen his father enjoy his time as a firefighter the past 12 years after making a career switch and decided to pursue the profession under the same man who was his father’s chief.
“I’ve always had a heart for helping people,” Sigler said.