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Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager

Carly Speer

No Stopping
This Firefighter

By Jeanne Sager
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — June 3, 2003 – She’s just 4’ 11”. Her long brown hair is usually pulled back in a ponytail.
But Carly Speer is out to prove she can do anything a guy can do – even follow the family’s patriarchal footsteps into a burning building.
Speer, 16, is currently undergoing training at the Sullivan County Airport to become the first female firefighter in White Sulphur Springs’ history.
Her grandpa, Harold Speer, started fighting fires in 1963 for the Monticello Fire Department. Her father, Michael, is currently chief of the White Sulphur Department. And Carly’s brother, Ryan, 24, joined the department when he was her age.
As soon as the 13-week training is complete, Carly will be able to do everything the other firefighters can do, she said, “except going into a burning building.”
This has been the teen’s dream since she was a youngster and had her first brush with civic duty.
A father arrived at Speer’s elementary school to pick up his daughter, also named Carly, and accidentally ended up with the Speer youngster, who was 6 at the time.
Liberty police arrived, assuming it was a kidnapping attempt, and straightened out the situation.
But Speer fell in love with the uniform, with the role of the guy who came to her aid as a knight in shining armor.
“The police officer came and helped out – now I want to help out people,” she explained.
After graduation in two years from Liberty High School, Speer hopes to attend SUNY Oneonta, then head to the academy to become a full-time policewoman – she’s currently a sophomore at the school.
But for now, firefighting is her way of giving back.
“I like the joy of the action,” Speer explained.
She’s already been on an EMS call, although there’s little she can do until she finishes the essentials course.
Speer had to wait until her 16th birthday to sign up for the class at the airport – the day came and went last month, and Speer quickly filled out the necessary paperwork.
When she’s done, Speer will be considered a junior firefighter. On her 18th birthday, she’ll become an official, full-fledged firefighter.
She’s looking forward to that day, to donning her gear and grabbing a hose.
“Actually going into the fire,” she said, will be daunting. “You’ve got to be quick thinking.”
That scared mom Debbie at first, but the family is confident there are enough friends and family in the department to “watch her back.”
And she’s proud to have her daughter follow in the footsteps that one day would have been reserved only for the men in the family.
“She’s proven herself from early on,” Debbie said. “She plans to take her membership to the top and become the first female chief.”
For now, Speer is just working to get through training.
So far, the going has been rough, she said. There are two other girls in the essentials course, and they stick together.
“People have their doubts about me,” Speer said. “Some of [the guys] are supportive, others just keep their distance.”
There are no other girls at the White Sulphur firehouse, which has been “kind of scary,” but Speer is already familiar with the guys and the layout.
She’s been helping with pancake breakfasts to support the department for years, and hanging out in the background when her dad’s on the job.
The challenges still lie in finding her niche in the department.
“We don’t have equipment that fits her yet,” Ryan said. “She wears a size 4 men’s, and the smallest we have is an 8.”
Despite her small stature, Speer is a girl with a huge drive to get the job done. She’s not, her family agrees, a “girly girl,” and she’s not afraid to exit a building covered in soot and dripping in sweat if she’s made a difference along the way.
Speer has played soccer and basketball for Liberty since she was a youngster, and she’s in shape to tackle the tasks at hand.
Her drive, Speer added, has been fueled mostly by Ryan’s success.
Although the two are eight years apart, Carly said she’s always wanted to be just like him.
“I look up to my brother a lot,” she said. “We’re pretty close, and he’s been a big influence on me.”
Ryan has vowed to look out for his little sister at the station and in the blaze.
He thinks she’ll make an outstanding addition to the volunteer squad.
“She’s a team player,” he said.
As for Carly, she wants to do things right and prove “that a girl can actually do a guy’s job.”

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