Tiffany Foster isn’t trying to break a glass ceiling or infiltrate a boys club.
She just found a career path she enjoys, one she thinks she’ll be good at and one where she happens to be the only woman.
Beginning in April, Foster, 26, will be the only woman firefighter in Baton Rouge out in the field, the only one of 500 people in the department.
Currently, she’s in the firefighter training academy with about 30 others — all men. But officials say she’s doing well and is expected to graduate in April, as scheduled.
“They don’t make it easier for me; I got to do everything they do,” she said.
Foster is the third female firefighter to be hired by the Baton Rouge Fire Department in about 25 years.
One of those women no longer works for the agency, and the other has moved up to administration, so she no longer responds to emergency calls.
But Foster is also the first woman to pass BRFD’s physical strength and endurance test since it was changed in 1999 to add more obstacles.
Foster, who is tall and lean, looks like a natural athlete and spent her collegiate days as a key player for the women’s basketball team for Southern University.
Despite her athleticism, she struggled with the Fire Department’s physical test the first time she took it in 2013.
Part of the application process requires conquering an obstacle course-style test in 11 minutes.
The test has applicants hauling heavy equipment such as hoses and ladders, running up stairs while dragging a dummy and simulating cutting a hole in a roof.
The first time she took the test, the clock ran out at the point where she was close enough to see the finish line.
“I don’t quit; I never give up,” she said.
Foster started ramping up her workouts, lifting weights and running.
This year, she took the test again and finished in about eight minutes — giving her plenty of time to spare.
In October, she started the academy, which runs about six months. After she graduates, she’ll be assigned to a station, where she’ll earn a starting salary of $31,626 a year.
Only a few fire stations are outfitted with separate sleeping quarters and showers for women.
BRFD spokesman Mark Miles said newer facilities are being outfitted for both genders, and Foster would be assigned to a station that has the appropriate accommodations.
Baton Rouge Fire Department is a top-rated, Class 1 agency, a designation shared by only four other fire departments in the state. The designation means property owners within the jurisdictions of those departments pay the lowest rates for property insurance.
Miles said the department has ongoing recruitment efforts to attract both women and minorities. He also noted the department employs many women in other roles, such as handling emergency calls.
The Fire Department has been under a long-standing federal consent decree to hire more minorities and women.
“We’ve done a lot of proactive recruitment to get the word out, but there’s not a huge level of participation of women to even apply,” said BRFD Chief Ed Smith.
St. George Fire Department, the second-largest fire department in the parish, has two women among its 143 firefighters.
“I don’t think a lot of women are attracted to the industry,” said St. George Fire Chief Gerard Tarleton. “It’s dirty; they’re housed with men. But they do well.”
He said one role of a firefighter is providing some medical care to victims, and he said sometimes victims are more comfortable with female firefighters.
Foster said she grew up in Amite thinking she would become a basketball player. At Southern University, she majored in animal science and was connected to an internship program one summer in North Carolina where she helped control wildfires.
At the time, she was one of three women of the 50 interns in the program.
Foster said she’s given little thought to the fact she’s the only woman in her academy class and one of a few in the department.
“It’s just fun,” she said. “I like to help people.”