interview by Aja Hannah
Lieutenant Danielle Michel, 43, is the highest-ranking woman in the Akron Fire Department. She is a medic, an instructor and an inspector for the department.
Danielle agreed to sit down with The Devil Strip so we can get to know our first responders.
The Devil Strip: Let’s jump right in. How did you get started in the fire department and how long have you been with them?
Lieutenant Danielle Michel: I’ve been on 19 years and I was actually a firefighter in the Navy.
TDS: Wow. Why did you choose to be a firefighter? What made you choose that path?
LDM: I don’t know. Something just intrigued me. My grandfather was the fire chief in Bainbridge. I grew up in Akron and, after I got out of the Navy, I came back home. [The Navy] was my first full-time employment. I went there right after high school.
TDS: What did you want to be when you were young?
LDM: When I was really little, I wanted to be a teacher.
TDS: How did that grow? What changed your mind?
LDM: I think I’m more of the tomboy type. I’ve always played sports. I’ve always worked with men. I didn’t want to go to college. I went my senior year of high school to Akron U. After doing that, I really didn’t want to go back to school, but I couldn’t not have a full-time job. When I got in the Navy, I thought that if I did 10 [years] then I would do 20. Then I had my son, so I did my four and got out.
TDS: Tell me about your day. What does that look like?
LDM: We work 24 on and 48 off.
TDS: I could not imagine doing 24 hours. Do you have to stay up the whole time?
LDM: We have the option. When we go to bed, though, if we get a call, we have to get right up. It’s like having a newborn. When you hear the baby cry, you have to get up and move.
TDS: Even as a lieutenant, you still have to get up?
LDM: Oh yes.
TDS: Do you have a bunk room?
LDM: I have the lieutenant’s office and it has a bed in it. There’s multiple dorms throughout the station. People might share a room or get their own individual rooms.
TDS: Do you guys have meals together if you’re not out?
LDM: Lunch and dinner usually. It’s lunchtime now.
TDS: What else do you do throughout your day as a lieutenant?
LDM: We go on med runs or engine runs. Then there’s certain days the grass needs to be cut or things need to be done to the engines or the med units like inventory. There’s daily and monthly work and then training.
TDS: You do all of that? You’re hands-on even though you’re a higher rank.
LDM: At my station, there’s only four of us. I’m ultimately responsible but we work together as a team.
TDS: I’ve seen an ambulance parked in front of a grocery store and you guys were getting groceries. I thought it was cool that you went together. You’re only able to do that if you’re not out on a run?
LDM: Yes, and we are also in service when we are in the store. If we are in the middle of shopping and we get a run, we leave.
TDS: If you could gain one quality or ability, what would it be?
LDM: (Quickly) Patience.
TDS: You raised two kids?! I would have thought you would have all of the patience.
LDM: (Laughing) They took all of my patience away from me. Sometimes you just have to bite your lip and take a deep breath.
TDS: Why would you choose patience?
LDM: It’s just patience in life. If you overreact quickly, it’s usually a bad outcome. If you have patience, you don’t overreact quickly and it is usually a good outcome.
TDS: You guys have to drive and get through traffic. I know my partner has the hardest time not getting road rage. I can only imagine if he had to drive more.
LDM: We get people who try to outrun us. They stop right in front of us. They refuse to go right for sirens. It can be very frustrating, but what it is is unsafe. It puts the public in jeopardy. If I’m in a big fire truck and someone stops dead in front of you, that’s 20 tons you’re trying to stop in the heat of a moment.
TDS: Tell me about your two kids and what it was like to raise them as a firefighter.
LDM: I have two boys, 21 and 20. Honestly, they would know when I was really tired when I would come home the next morning. When they were little, they were like “Oh, it’s so cool,” but as they got older they really didn’t think much of it. Mom was just at work.
TDS: Were they really proud of you when became a lieutenant?
LDM: They were. They actually pinned my lieutenant badge on me.
TDS: What would you do if you weren’t a firefighter? If this wasn’t the path you took?
LDM: Honestly, I don’t know, because I was a single mom with two babies. The days I worked, they went to my mom’s house for 24 hours. Without my mom, I wouldn’t have been able to do this job. When I took the test, I was pregnant with my youngest. I said, “Mom, it’s a 24-hour shift. Should I get the job?” She said, “We’ll figure it out when you get it.” I was working at Sterling at the time in customer service. When I got the job, she said, “Okay, I guess we will figure out something.”
TDS: That was in between the Navy and the Fire Department?
LDM: Yes. If it wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be where I am today. She had those two little kids for 24 hours at a time plus whenever I was at medic school.
TDS: Wow. So is it safe to say your mom is your hero?
LDM: My mom is definitely my hero.
TDS: What first made your mom your hero?
LDM: She’s always been strong, independent. She’s never sugarcoated a thing a day of my life. She made me who I am.
TDS: That’s sweet. Moms are important and I couldn’t imagine the sacrifice. Switching gears, I have some fun questions. What’s your favorite book or movie or TV show?
LDM: I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy from the absolute, positive beginning. I’ve been stuck on that. I also like Baldacci books. And then favorite movie of all time — you’re going to laugh — The Breakfast Club. When I was a kid, I knew every line of that movie.
TDS: If you won the lottery — the big lottery, millions of dollars, what would you do?
LDM: The first thing? I would travel for a month.
TDS: Where would you go?
LDM: Down Under.
TDS: What would you do after that?
LDM: I live a very, very simple life. If I won a lot of money, I would donate tons of it.
TDS: If there was one thing you would want people to know about you, what would it be?
LDM: I’m a lot of fun. I like to travel and I love my Cleveland Browns and Ohio State Buckeyes.
TDS: Where have you gone?
LDM: Since my kids finally grew up, I’ve been to the Bahamas, Jamaica, Mexico. My friend got tickets and we went to Vegas. I just got back from Ocean City. We are supposed to go to Aruba next year.
TDS: Did your kids get upset that you went without them now?
LDM: My youngest, a bit. He said, “Why can’t I go?” I said, “you can if you pay your own way.”
TDS: Ooooh! I bet you he was like “How dare you!”
LDM: Well, look up John Carroll tuition prices and he can see why I’m not taking him with me.
TDS: (Laughing) Well, that was all my questions. Thank you for talking with me.
Aja Hannah is a writer, traveler, and mama. She believes in the Oxford comma, cheap flights, and a daily dose of chocolate.
Photo used with permission from Danielle Michel.