Morgan Ayers has always been a girl who followed a different path than most of her gender. She plays on Carroll County High School’s boys’ golf team and even participated in the boys’ wrestling program for a while. So it should come as no surprise that the recent high school graduate is a member of the Hillsville Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD).
“Two years ago I was in agriculture class at the high school and some of the guys started talking about joining the fire department. I had never really thought about being a firefighter, but I like to do stuff most girls wouldn’t do, so I joined,” said Ayers, who has always had the blessings of her parents, John and Brandy Ayers, when it came to her endeavors.
“My parents have always let me try any sport I wanted to play. Now, mom thinks being a firefighter is the best thing. She’s very proud,” she said.
Ayers joined the fire department as a member of the Cadet Program, then moved to full membership status when she turned 18. She already has her Level 1 and Level 2 Firefighter credentials, which qualifies her to be a firefighter anywhere in the United States. Of her 240 hours of training, 36 have come in hazardous materials (HazMat), and in a few days she will be taking her state certification test for Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
“The amount of training she’s had really speaks to her dedication. She’ll be a quality asset to some department,” said HVFD Assistant Chief Mike Musser, who has conducted some of Ayers’ training. “She is not afraid to get her hands dirty. When there’s a battle, she jumps right in.”
Ayers said being a female in a male-dominated field hasn’t been a problem.
“(The other firefighters) treat me the same way they treat each other, like one of the guys. They’re like a bunch of brothers,” she said.
Although it took a while to get used to the weight of the equipment and wearing the air pack, Ayers said she was determined to carry her weight.
“If I couldn’t do it to begin with, I found a way to get the job done,” she said.
In addition to being a member of the local fire department, Ayers is a Wildland Firefighter with the Virginia Department of Forestry.
“Most guys don’t like wildfires, but I do. I like the fires where I get to use my tools,” said Ayers, who spent four days last Easter in Buchanan County fighting a wildfire.
Ayers plans to attend Southwest Community College in order to become a paramedic, and hopefully earn her living as a paid firefighter or as a member of an ambulance service at least for a while. Her ultimate goal, however, is to become a flight nurse.
Michael Howlett can be reached at (276) 728-7311 or on Twitter at @MikeEHowlett