Image: Female African-American firefighters, in their hiring order: Genois Brabson, Kim Harvin, Helena Van Dorp (not pictured), Marsha Black, Anita Crusoe, Michelle Nelson, Andrea Burton, Andrea Harris [PHOTOS: COURTESY]
Anita Crusoe graduated from the five-month long fire academy on June 6, 1997, beginning her career. 21 years later, this year, she retired.
Fort Wayne Ink Spot (FWIS): Are you from Fort Wayne?
Anita Crusoe: I was raised in Fort Wayne. My family moved here when I was two years old. My maternal side of the family is from Selma, Alabama, which is where I was born. I graduated from Southside High School in 1983. I returned to Alabama for college at Alabama State.
FWIS: What were your primary duties?
Crusoe: As a firefighter, my primary duties were to respond to calls of life and safety hazards. I responded to structure fires (residential, commercial, industrial), motor vehicle accidents, medical runs, injuries and fire service calls.
FWIS: Which station did you work out of when you started?
Crusoe: When firefighters graduate from the fire academy they begin a training rotation. Each rookie starts at the busiest fire stations to make sure they gain valuable experience. And each rookie may be at a station for two months for the first year. Then they are roving to the stations where help is needed for another year. After the second year, rookies are allowed to bid into a fire station. I believe I bid into my first station after my third year. In 21 years, I have worked at every station, but I have been bid into six fire stations.
FWIS: How many African-American female firefighters began with you?
Crusoe: When I came on the department in 1997, there was only one other African-American woman on the job, Marsha Black. Genois Wilson-Brabson was the first woman hired on the FWFD in 1975. She retired in 1995. Kim Harvin and Helenia Van Dorp were next. Unfortunately, Kim left due to a very serious injury after nearly nine years, and Helenia left the year after she was hired.
Since I was hired in 1997, Michelle Nelson and Andrea Burton were hired. After 17 years of not hiring any African-American women, Andrea Harris was accepted into the fire academy. She will graduate in September.
In the 179-year history of the FWFD there have been only eight African American women hired. Even though Andrea Harris is in the fire academy, she is the eighth African- American woman hired into the fire academy.
I believe at one time there were a total of 22 female firefighters. We may be close to that number again. After a few of the women retired, our numbers dropped. Recently, I believe we have hired approximately five women within the past three years. We may be close to 20 female firefighters at this time. I'm uncertain of the exact numbers.
FWIS: Did you face any kind of discrimination in your career?
Crusoe: Yes, unfortunately. I once received an emergency call from a person who was unresponsive. When we arrived, a woman was present with the patient. She yelled, "Get out N-word," the entire time we were there. I was the only woman and African American on the scene. Everyone ignored her and no one ever spoke a word about her behavior. As an African-American there are certain assumptions or stereotypes assigned to me, not because I’m deserving but because I am African-American. The same is true working as a woman in a field that is dominated by men. Those stereotypes and assumptions don't depict who I am but speak volumes about the person making the assumptions.
FWIS: What are you most proud of in your career?
Crusoe: As a firefighter we are called when people are having the worst day of their lives. I have been happy to make myself available to members of our community to help in any way I can. I am proud to be a part of a group of people who will lay down their lives to save the lives of the people in our community. I am proud of be one of the eight African-American women who have represented the Fort Wayne Fire Department with courage, strength, and tenacity.