For the first time in 140 years, the Notre Dame Fire Department will have two full-time female firefighters.
Michelle Woolverton and Christi Shibata were recently sworn in and joined more than a dozen full-time firefighters and 40 paid part-time firefighters, who are responsible for serving three area colleges and providing mutual aid to both the South Bend and Clay fire departments.
“I never would have thought that my dream was actually going to come true, and it has,” Woolverton said, according to the South Bend Tribune.
Both women started with the NDFD this summer, but neither are new to helping others.
Woolverton started with the NDFD in 2010 as an on-call EMT while she attended a paramedic program. She eventually joined Notre Dame University’s Building Services department, where she worked for nine years.
“I just love helping people,” she said. “Whether it’s just holding an old lady’s hand, nothing wrong with her, you just need to talk to her. Or it’s more serious and you have to save someone’s life. You are that person that gets to have an impact on them and help them through whatever it is they’re going through.”
Before Shibata began her career with the NDFD in 2018, she worked as a physical therapist assistant for eight years.
“I wanted to get out of the clinic life and get more into emergency medicine. I was looking for a career change. I just didn’t know how to get my foot into the door anywhere in the fire service up there (in Michigan),” she said.
It was her sister, chief of the Notre Dame Police Department, who encouraged her to become a firefighter.
Woolverton and Shibata are the department’s first-ever female full-time firefighters.
Woolverton and Shibata’s appointments mark the first time the oldest university fire department in the United States has employed females. NDFD Fire Chief Bruce Harrison is optimistic about their future with the department.
“You look for people who have heart and passion for the job. You have to have the right attitude, empathy and a genuine concern for people and want to serve,” Harrison said.
Meanwhile, Woolverton believes they will be able to provide a “motherly role,” especially when they respond to incidents on campus.
“Having a female can provide a better way to connect with a lot of the female [students] here,” Woolverton said. “Unfortunately, sometimes students get drunk here and a little out of hand. Having a female here to step in to kind of nurture and take care [of the students] can help. Women are just wired different.”
Let’s congratulate these brave women for their promotion to full-time firefighters and for making history!
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