Fire in Her Blood: Tri-C Grad Lauren Phillips Follows Her Firefighting Dream
Over the span of 12 years full of professional twists and turns, Phillips never lost sight of her goal: a job as a full-time firefighter
For years, it seemed like firefighting was tapping Lauren Phillips on the shoulder, flagging her down, trying to get her attention.
It’s always been a part of Phillips’ life. She was introduced to firefighting at an early age by her grandfather, a Cleveland firefighter for 30 years. By the time Phillips was in her late teens, she considered it as a career, but opted for work as an orthodontic assistant.
In 2005, she started taking childhood education classes at Cuyahoga Community College to further her career in orthodontics. But firefighting would still grab her attention.
“I passed a fire station on my way in to work each day,” Phillips said. “Deep down, I always knew I wanted to get into it.”
Today, a fire station is where Phillips works. She wears the same Cleveland Fire Department shoulder patch as her grandfather while battling blazes on the city’s East Side with Collinwood’s Ladder 31.
The path to that post began more than a decade ago, when she enrolled in the Tri-C Fire Training Academy.
Along with firefighter training, Phillips pursued an emergency medical technician certification. She graduated in summer 2006 with a certificate in EMT-B (basic) and Firefighter I and II.
“I think it starts with the type of person I am,” she said. “I love to help people, so that aspect appealed to me. I’ve also always been an athletic person, so the physical challenge of firefighting was something else that really appealed to me.”
But her journey was just beginning. With an EMT-B certification and the 240 training hours necessary to attain Firefighter I and II certification, Phillips was ready to look for a job. But her experience and certification level made job-hunting difficult as she started applying to area fire departments.
“For full-time firefighter positions, departments were looking for paramedics — a couple steps above an EMT-B,” she said. “I eventually found a part-time firefighting job in North Randall, where I stayed for two and a half years. Then I moved on to a private ambulance company as an EMT.”
Phillips’ career took even more twists and turns. She went back to school and became certified as a medical assistant and phlebotomist, leading to a stint as a medical assistant in a private practice at Southwest General Health Center. She then became a personal trainer at a local gym.
But her dream of full-time firefighting never faded. In 2017, 11 years after graduating from Tri-C, she finally found her chance.
“My husband, who is a Cleveland firefighter, told me the Cleveland Fire Department was hiring,” Phillips said. “I decided to give the written exam a try. I passed, and got into the CFD fire academy.”
She passed the CFD exam in April 2017, but was still more than a year before her class entered the Cleveland academy in September 2018.
The wait was worth it. On Jan. 11 of this year, Phillips was sworn in as a Cleveland firefighter. She was the first female firefighter hired by the city in 30 years.
“I’ll be very glad if other women and girls are inspired by my story and motivated to chase their own dreams,” she said. “But first and foremost, I’m here to do a job like every other firefighter — man or woman.”
Phillips said the idea of gender equality in firefighting was ingrained in her from her earliest days at the Tri-C Fire Training Academy.
“Going into an academy with no prior experience, you’re not quite sure how people will view you as a female trying to enter a profession that is male-dominated,” she said. “But my Tri-C instructors were very fair. There was no eggshell-walking around me. I was the only woman in a class of 99 graduates, but I was treated like everyone else. Tri-C was a great place for me to get my start in the field.”
It took more than a decade for Phillips to reach her career goal after leaving Tri-C, but her perseverance paid off. And that is the lesson she wants to share with other aspiring firefighters.
“It’s a position that comes with a lot of responsibility,” she said. “You’re dealing with people in a moment when they need you the most. But it’s also an incredibly rewarding position. If you have the discipline and the will to succeed, it’s worth every test and every hour of study.”
July 22, 2019
Erik Cassano, 216-987-3577 or firstname.lastname@example.org