As the only woman currently serving in the Rutland City Fire Department, Jenna Elliott, 22, of Rutland, stays true to her own beauty pageant platform.
During her time as USA National Miss Vermont last year, she often encouraged women to pursue careers in fields dominated by men. Standing at 5 feet, 4 inches, Elliott said she has never felt intimidated being surrounded by men in the workplace.
“Growing up, I was kind of my dad’s shadow,” she said. “I grew up working in the garage and being around him and all of his friends working on a race car and all of that sort of stuff. So being in and among men, it didn’t really faze me.”
However, Elliott said, she also enjoyed dressing up as a kid, which drew her to the pageant world at the age of 14.
“I really fell in love with it,” she said of pageantry. “It was a way for me to build confidence and grow as an individual.”
She credits pageants with fostering her love of community service, which is part of what has driven her to take the leap into firefighting.
“I really noticed that I wanted to be a part of something bigger when competing in pageantry,” she said. “There’s a lot of community service involved with that, but I wanted something bigger. So, when I heard that I could join a volunteer department and give back to my community, I thought that would be an amazing way to make an impact. From there it kind of all just followed a path, and I found something that I really loved.”
While many people see pageantry and firefighting as a contradictory passions, Elliott finds both fulfilling.
“I would say that no matter what it is that I pursue, in either this career or pageantry, I really try to give it my full effort and my full heart,” she said.
Elliott has put pageantry on hold recently as she gets settled in at the station, but she hopes to go back to competing in the fall. She joined the RCFD in September after serving with the Rutland Town Fire Department as a volunteer for a year and a half. She will be sworn in by the Board of Aldermen in July as a full-time firefighter.
Elliott said she greatly enjoys her time at the station, comparing it to the camaraderie of sports teams, which she missed after leaving school.
“Coming here, this is a family. I’ve gained brothers and fathers. My family has grown so much in the last year,” she said. “Everything we do here is part of a team, and that’s why I love it.”
According to Elliott, she has not run into any problems being the only woman at the station.
“I wouldn’t say that I expected anything bad to come out of it, but I was kind of unsure being the only female in a career department. But the guys welcomed me with open arms,” she said. “They were extremely willing to help with anything, willing to take me aside and train with me on things that I may have been weak on. I don’t feel out of place at all.”
According to Elliott, the biggest thing she has struggled with is her tendency to push herself, which can present a challenge when it comes to the physical aspects of the job.
However, she is working to remedy this through CrossFit, and she became a cross fit trainer in April. She plans to bring CrossFit to more of the guys at the station.
She said it is important to her to be treated the same way as the other firefighters on the job.
“Going into this, I really didn’t want to be treated any differently,” she said. “I wanted to be seen as one of the guys.”
Elliott strongly encourages girls and women to join the fire service, and said she would not mind some female company down at the station.
“This is honestly one of the most rewarding careers out there,” she said. “I would like some sisters here to hang out with. The guys are fun, but it is nice to have another female there to pal around with.”
Elliott said that one of the best parts of her job is that it often does not feel like a job at all.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very serious job, but we have a lot of fun,” she said. “I am so lucky to have a job that is like a second home, and is a place where I can come and I know I have a second family here to help me through anything.”