As any firefighter will tell you, their career isn’t just a job, it’s a passion. One that comes with grueling hours, dangerous work, and emotional trauma.
For Jacksonville firefighter Brittany Johnson, she believes it’s the perfect career.
"I definitely have more confidence when I’m in this uniform at work than anywhere else, that’s for sure," she said. "I just jumped in and loved it and decided there was nothing else for me."
As the engineer for engine 61, she’s in charge of everything related to their fire truck, including driving; which at first was nerve-wracking when she started five years ago.
"It was so exciting and terrifying at the same time."
Lieutenant Pam Ramsdell, a 15-year veteran and fourth generation firefighter, is in charge of engine 61.
They are part of the estimated less than 10% of female firefighters working in Jacksonville.
"I had people look at me funny when I told them I wanted to do it because they don’t see women doing it," said Ramsdell.
"People don’t realize we go through the same training as the guys, we do the same job that they do, we have the same expectations on us," said Johnson.
They experience the same amount of tragedy, too, on a call, and on their team.
They both know firefighters who have committed suicide and attribute their deaths to PTSD.
A new study just published on Tuesday from the University of Houston found one in eight firemen suffer PTSD and contemplate suicide, but for firewomen, they found it to happen in one in five. It's a statistic Ramsdell and Johnson were both surprised to hear, but they do recall feeling uneasy about sharing their emotions, especially in a male dominated field, early on in their careers.
"It hasn’t been talked about until now," said Ramsdell.
"When I first got on the job I personally felt like I couldn’t talk about an issue I was having, you keep it on the down low, play it off like you’re good," Johnson said.
Peer mentoring is starting to help firefighters open up.
They hope to be the example for a new generation of firefighters, like their new rookie in training Alyssa Sweat.
"I look up to the female firefighters, I love having them train me, it makes me more comfortable," said Sweat.
A group of firefighters from JFRD first opened up to First Coast News about PTSD and suicide last week. Following our initial story, another firefighter out of Clay County opened up about his experience and why it forced him to leave the job.
They are all calling for more resources and attention to be brought to first responders and their long-term well being.