Breaking the Brass Ceiling in Fulton County
According to the Nation Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are approximately 1.1M firefighters today “manning” America’s almost 30,000 firehouses and of those million-plus first responders, only eight percent, or about 88,000 are women. From that small nation-wide group, the NFPA estimates that only 150 women have been chosen to pin the brass badge of leadership on their uniforms.
In December of 2021, Jessica Geer joined the ranks of that elite group when she was promoted to the position of Fire Chief of the Metamora Amboy Volunteer Fire Department (MAVFD) after serving for three months in that position on an interim basis. For the American firefighting community, the hiring was rare but not unprecedented. For Fulton County, however, it was historic. Jessica, Evergreen High School Class of ’98, a wife, a mother of two, and a 17-year veteran of the MAVFD become the first women appointed to the position of fire chief in the history of Fulton County, Ohio.
Chief Geer built a solid foundation of education and training followed by years of experience that made her an attractive and qualified candidate for such a post. She did post-secondary studies at Lourdes University during her Junior and Senior years of high school, received an Associate’s Degree in Physical Therapy from Owens Community College and worked as a Rehab Manager at facilities in Sylvania and Toledo.
Jessica joined the MAVFD as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and many years later was promoted to Assistant EMS Director in 2018. With that promotion came her desire to become more knowledgeable about the firefighting side of things. “In that role I have a strong belief that you should have both sides,” she explained. “If an issue comes from anyone you should be able to field it whether it’s EMS related or fire related. So, I felt the need to know what the other side was doing.” The Assistant EMS Director then completed her Volunteer Firefighter training quickly followed by becoming a certified Firefighter I.
In 2021, the Chief of MAVFD was experiencing some medical issues which left him physically unable to perform all the requirements of the job which led to Ms. Geer taking over on an interim basis. When it was determined the Chief would not be returning, she was offered the position.
Starting a new job always comes with a little apprehension and when that job suddenly places you in a leadership role in charge of all your co-workers, it can present somewhat of a scary and daunting challenge. It can be even more of a challenge when one of those co-workers happens to be your husband, as in Fire Captain Brent Geer. Not only does the climate change at work but the family dynamics enter into uncharted waters.
“It does makes it a little bit interesting, said Chief Geer laughingly. “But we’ve actually been married for 20 years, been together for 27 years. We were high school sweet hearts so, it’ll be okay. We come here. We do what we have to do then we go home.” Her family also includes her daughter Samantha who graduated from Evergreen last year and son Andrew, a junior at Evergreen who is showing an early interest in the family business of firefighting.
The challenges on the job for the new Chief will be many as she works to learn the position, then works to improve the department, all while keeping her community as safe and protected as possible. Like every small municipality in the area, proper staffing is one of the largest issues that requires the most attention. “Obviously, we’re trying to attract people to work for us. Everyone is trying to make each individual department attractive so then you have to compete with your neighbor and that makes it a little more difficult,” explained Chief Geer. To further complicate the situation, she also has to compete against the “big towns” like Toledo, Perrsyburg and Sylvania that can offer better wage and benefit packages.
The responsibility of maintaining fire engines and other related equipment and gear is another area where Geer is now fully involved. “I have to make sure I know what is going on with those red fire trucks out there. There’s lots of equipment here. We have been very blessed by our supporters and our voters,” she said. “They always are so gracious with our levies, which is great.”
Chief Geer says she has a lot of people within the department she can rely on to keep everything running smoothly. “I have a good core group of dedicated people who are willing to be the full-time staff here, who come in every third day and do what needs to get done,” said the Chief.
She also has support from outside the department that is very much appreciated. “All of the Fulton County Chiefs have been great,” she remarked. “They have been willing to answer the phone and answer my questions. Because not everyone does it the same way but everyone has the same rule. So, how do you get to that rule? How do you apply that and how do you get your people to do that as well? They are a good group to work with.”
You do not work that many years on the same job within the same community and greater area without developing a reputation based on your job performance, work ethic and accomplishments. This was quickly evident when, while attending January’s meeting of the Fulton County Fire Chiefs Association (FCFCA), she saw on the docket she had been nominated to be the groups’ President. So now, Chief Geer can add the honor of being the FCFCA’s first woman president to her already impressive resume.
It is still very early in Jessica’s tenure as Fire Chief but she has been very busy actively planning the MAVFD’s future for the next few years to stay current with vehicles, equipment, gear and the ever-changing rules, regulations and procedures. A major part of her plan will be communication and transparency of her goals and methods to ensure everyone in the MAVFD is on the same page with respect to providing Metamora and the rest of Amboy Township with the best possible fire protection and EMS service.
Pictured: Metamora Fire Chief Jessica Geer