The Hottest Job in America

Though today they represent just 6,000 of the nation's 1.1 million firefighters, women are finally cracking the white-hot ceiling of this once solidly male profession.

female firefighter in firehouse bedroom
Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
Though today they represent just 6,000 of the nation's 1.1 million firefighters, women are finally cracking the white-hot ceiling of this once solidly male profession, with California leading the way. Meet the ladies of Oakland's Station 29, where on some shifts women outnumber men by nearly 2-1.
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female firefighter in firehouse bedroom
Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
A Hard Day's Work
Firefighters at Station 29 serve in 24-hour shifts. Betsey Kimmel, 43, settles into one of the firehouse's four spartan bedrooms.
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female firefighter responding to a call
Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
On the Job
Linda Buell, 36, responds to a call about a suspicious package, which proves to be harmless.
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female firefighter grocery shopping
Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
House Rules
The on-duty crew goes grocery shopping every morning. In the event of an alarm, a designated supermarket employee minds the cart until the team returns.
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leftover pasta dish
Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
The Firehouse Diet
Meals are routinely interrupted by alarms. This alfredo dish sat for hours before the crew returned from a 911 call.
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female firefighter in protective gear
Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
Taking the Heat
"People are always surprised by what I do. Someone once asked me, 'You actually put out fires?' What did she expect me to say, that I just cook and clean?" —Melinda Drayton, Oakland Battalion Chief
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female firefighter on duty
Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
One of the Guys
Zoraida Diaz, 41, sets about her day's duties: replenishing supplies and checking the fire truck's equipment.
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