Deborah Stephens

Title

Deborah Stephens

Subject

Firefighting

Description

First female firefighter in Saginaw, Michigan

Creator

Amy French

Source

Image: Saginaw News, February 20, 1990

Birth Date

1957

Birthplace

Louisville, Mississippi, USA

Occupation

Firefighter

Biographical Text

Deborah Stephens was the first female firefighter in the Saginaw Valley region.  Stephens faced a lot of challenges being the first female fire fighter. She first joined the Saginaw Fire Department because it looked like a good and interesting job. Having taken a degree from Mississippi State University, she wasn't able to find a full-time teaching job in the area and had worked in various fields.  When she joined the department, a Saginaw News reporter quoted her as saying that all she wanted to do was fight fires, not carry a torch for equal rights." (Saginaw News, 2/20/1990) Asked about that statement in 2014, Stephens said that she was happy to have represented females well. That she always tried to set a good standard through continuous improvement and keeping up a good image. 

Although an educated and hard-working professional, it was difficult for Stephens to fit into the boys club.  As she stated in a 2014 interview, "It doesn't matter how you try to fit in, there is always someone who thinks you should be at home baking cookies." Resentment of her hiring as a result of affirmative action marked the beginning of her career.  Physically and mentally, Stephens knew she could do the job, but had to counter those who thought that women weren't strong enough or wouldn't be able to handle the horrors of the job. She stated that she wasn't afraid  to do the job, but she was appropriately "cautious"—a good trait in a person who is running into a burning building where other people's lives are at stake. Even though she had all the proper training, she know that she had to "try harder" than a man would. At the time that she was hired, she told a Saginaw News reporter, "I'm  going to have to prove myself every day. But whatever I do, I try to do my best." (Saginaw News, 2/20/1990) Doing her best was exactly what Stephens did and earned her a life-long career on the fire department and promotion in 2005 to the officer position of lieutenant. After twenty-two years on the department, she retired. The door that she opened continues to help women. When Ona Hoard became the first female captain in the area, she credited Stephens' mentorship. Women like Deborah Stephens remind us how important it is to have role models and that more women need to continue to integrate the firefighting profession so that young girls have a picture of who they want to emulate and someone to help show them the ropes.

Files

20140617_100520.jpg

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Date Added
June 17, 2014
Collection
Local (Michigan)
Item Type
Person
Tags
,
Citation
Amy French, “Deborah Stephens,” Women Who Dared, accessed December 14, 2018, https://womenwhodared.omeka.net/items/show/58.