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56-Year-Old Mom Becomes Firefighter

Robin Nesdale, a 56-year-old divorced mother, found herself an empty nester when her only daughter started college.

When friends suggested that she find volunteer work or a hobby that she liked, Robin only found that it “…didn’t suit me,” she told The New York Times. “I’ve always been a tomboy.”

However, she had an epiphany when she passed her local fire department in Mamaroneck, New York. She saw a firefighter sitting outside, and they began chatting. She then asked him, “‘do you think I could do this?’ and he said, ‘Sure.’ And it was like a light bulb went off. I wanted something to help me and the community.”

With that, Ms.Nesdale put in an application to become one of Mamaroneck’s volunteer firefighters. A year later – present day – she has graduated and earned the title of volunteer firefighter.

A state fire instructor in Westchester County, Walter Ferguson, has said that Robin is the oldest woman to become a volunteer firefighter in his 20 years as an instructor.

The New York Times reported that among other tests, one has to “complete 130 hours of class time and pass two 100-question exams and a written hazardous-material test, as well as a physical test that would challenge someone half her age.”

“I thought I was going to faint,” said Ms. Nesdale. “I felt like I was dying. But I was determined and driven tofinish.”

Although the mother of one always stayed fit in general, she noted that she went to the gym almost every day during the six months leading up to the skills examination.

The New York Times wrote that “The skills test must be completed in full gear including a tank with 30 minutes of oxygen. If she did not finish before the air ran out — or if she quit — she failed. The eight tasks included walking up and down three flights of stairs with a 50-pound hose on her shoulder, raising a ladder up and down, carrying heavy saws 75 feet and dragging a 165-pound dummy.”

“Robin had the dedication and the inner strength to get through some tough physical challenges,” said Ferguson, who retired as a captain with the Greenville Fire District.

Nesdale was one of five women in the class, the most in all of Ferguson’s years as an instructor.

“She and the other women kind of bounced off of each other — almost like a challenge, and it worked to the advantage of all of them — you know kind of like, ‘if she can do it, so can I,’” Ferguson told The New York Times. “It instilled a sense of pride in each of them. They all encouraged each other and they all met the standard.”

Paul Tortorella, chief of the Mamaroneck Fire Department, admires Ms. Nesdale’s achievement and agreed that it would be a major accomplishment for anyone. Robin certainly has the enthusiasm for the job, her gear always in the trunk of her car ready for action whenever she gets a text alert signaling her to an emergency.

“As soon as I put on my gear, my heart starts racing,” she mentioned. “I’m not scared, but I hope I have the physical and mental stamina.”

Ms. Nesdale knows she still has much to learn, but the fact that she accomplished her goal in the face of others’ doubt keeps her motivated.

“I changed my negativity into positivity,” she said. “I love doing it and I feel good about myself. No one believed me when I said I’d be a firefighter.”

Featured Image by liz west on  Flickr
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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