GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
It’s a brand new home and movers are pushing a refrigerator into the kitchen for a woman in San Angelo. As she unpacks her things they notice firefighter helmets lining the ground across the room. “So, is your husband a firefighter?” they ask her. She chuckles to herself and replies, “No, that would be me.” The movers apologize and ask surprisingly, “You’re a firefighter?”
Many women throughout history have taken on roles that were not expected of their gender. One such woman takes on the burden to break the mold at the 17th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Emergency Services fire department. Krystell Clemons, 17th CES firefighter, represents the women throughout history who’ve broken the mold and historical standards for Women’s Equality Day Aug. 26.
She discovered the life of firefighting through requesting a local fire station to help her with her high school graduation project. The project required her to find a mentor, spend time with them, and create a presentation and 8-page paper about it. A mentor at the station gave her books and information on what she might need to know, not just about firefighting but about life in general. Krystell said that by the end of the project she had fallen in love with the world of firefighting.
A couple years later, Krystell stood in a recruiter’s office saying that if she couldn’t be a firefighter for the Air Force then she wouldn’t join.
Like so many still training for firefighting today, Krystell came through the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy.
“There were not a lot of military females in my class,” said Krystell. “I’ve had my struggles. I’ve had times where I wanted to quit and thought I wasn’t mentally or emotionally strong enough to do this.”
Krystal pushed through training and graduated with the rest of her class. Her first duty station was Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
“I wanted to see the world, go places and see things,” said Krystell. “When I was in tech school and I got my orders to Georgia, I thought ‘what am I going to do?’ When I got there it was like complete culture shock.”
Learning everything she needed to know for her job and growing up on her own was a hard task. When times became a little too hard, she would call her mother for advice.
“My mother worked at a correctional facility, big woman, strong,” said Krystell. “I was an Airman 1st Class at Moody and I had a bad day and I told my mom that I couldn’t do it and that I wasn’t strong enough. She paused and said ‘Miha, you done?’ And I said yes. And then she just snapped and said that she ‘did not give birth to a weak female. Don’t you let them see you cry.’ And I just snapped out of it and said yes ma’am. She’s helped get me to where I am. I get a lot of my strength from her.”
In 2009, Krystell became an instructor for the fire academy in the Air Force and taught men and women alike throughout different courses. Both genders adopted her as their mentor. Krystell said that watching the students grow, graduate and sometimes request her to pin on their badges at graduation made her proud to be their fire instructor.
Krystell is not only a firefighter but a mother of two boys. She’s been stationed away from them and has taught Airmen in training while being pregnant. After serving at Laughlin Air Force Base, two and half hours away from her children, she decided to separate from the military and serve at 17th CES Fire Emergency Services.
“These guys [at the fire department] are amazing,” said Krystell. “A couple of them have taken me underneath their wing and taught me a couple things. They made me feel welcome. They welcomed me with open arms from day one.”
According to the National Fire Protection Association, 1,700 women occupied firefighting positions in the year 1983. In 2012, the NFPA recorded 11,000 women firefighting.