Ryleigh Carr has found her calling in helping people as a firefighter for SKFR. Photo courtesy of Ryleigh Carr.

Ryleigh Carr has found her calling in helping people as a firefighter for SKFR. Photo courtesy of Ryleigh Carr.

Female firefighter reflects on rewarding career

South King Fire and Rescue’s Ryleigh Carr says her gender is “an asset, not a liability.”

Editor’s note: The Mirror is highlighting women in the Federal Way community in recognition of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.

Sunlight filters in through the windows at a Starbucks in Federal Way.

Ryleigh Carr drinks an iced coffee, relaxing after her 24-shift from South King Fire and Rescue Station 62 near the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce.

She’s been a firefighter with SKFR since Jan. 24 — and she’s loved every minute of it.

It’s a hard job, Carr said, but being able to give back to the community makes it all worthwhile for her.

“I have the opportunity to give back here,” she said.

Carr started her service career in the Army, where she quickly rose to the rank of sergeant for Army intelligence. There are a lot of similarities between working in military intelligence and working as a firefighter, Carr said.

“The people [I work with] have a passion and a desire bigger than themselves.”

Her military background also gave her the skills necessary to handle being a firefighter.

“It set me up for scenes out of the norm,” she said.

At all of the scenes Carr attends, she says there is consistently a structured response between SKFR and the Federal Way Police Department.

“Everyone is working together cohesively.”

Carr said they have a very good professional relationship with FWPD, which is helpful at scenes that are more intense and demanding.

Working as a first responder and dealing with more intense 911 calls takes an emotional toll, though.

Despite whatever scene she may come upon, Carr said she enjoys the opportunity to say hello to people and be at their side during their time of need.

“I find it incredibly rewarding.”

She thinks it’s important to hire younger generations onto the force to make sure the “torch is passed off.”

“It’s an opportunity to soak up knowledge and mold the next generation.”

Carr said her gender isn’t an issue in her career.

“I’ve never bought into that,” she said, because she knows her gender doesn’t prevent her from being able to do her job just like her male colleagues.

The important part is knowing that whoever you’re working with has your back in the field, regardless of their gender, she said.

That mentality has served her well in her career, and she tries not to let gender become an issue.

“I embrace it,” she said. “It’s about the mentality.”

During her time in the military, though, her gender did play a role in how she was able to do her job. As a sergeant in Army intelligence, she was deployed to Afghanistan for eight months to gather intelligence and provide humanitarian efforts.

During her training before deployment, she was part of a female engagement team whose purpose was to acquaint them with Afghan people and culture and how they could interact with them as female soldiers.

In Afghanistan, Carr said, it was unheard of for male soldiers to speak with female soldiers, and that was something Carr was able to use to her advantage.

She said for her career she used her gender as “an asset, not a liability.”

Carr’s immediate supervisor, Captain Mike D. Lawson of SKFR Station 62, said she’s been a welcome presence since she started her shift work in January.

She grew up in a military family, so she has a lot of respect for those who wear the uniform.

Carr trained from January to March 2017 at Bates EMT School, and she took a three-month training course after she was hired on to SKFR in August 2018.

She currently resides in Lakewood with her wife and 3-year old son.

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