When Sherra Deimeke suited up for her first day as a firefighter at Little Dixie Fire Protection District back in 1995, she joined a very small club. Census data shows that in 2000, slightly more than 3.7 percent of firefighters were women.
But that didn’t discourage the 19-year-old, who was “always up for a challenge” from pursuing her childhood dream.
“It’s every kid’s dream to be a firefighter,” Deimeke said. “In high school, I managed the football team, and I was always that girl who wanted to show that I could make it in a male-dominated field.”
She still remembers her first fire: a combine fire in a soybean field. “And I came back the next day for more,” she said.
While admitting that at first she worried a little about not fitting in with the mostly-male team, she said it wasn’t long before she felt fully accepted into the ranks. “They became my family,” she said.
That was 20 years ago, and as Deimeke prepares for her retirement from the fire service Thursday, Chief Kenneth Hoover said she has “been an asset to the team over the years, and has also proven that female firefighters can succeed.”
“I was very pleased to hire Sherra,” he said. “Back in ‘95, that was a time when women were still breaking into fire service. It’s taken a lot of hard work, and the others didn’t hold her hand. She’s done an exemplary job, and those shoes are going to be hard to fill.”
Deimeke said the fire protection community has become much more accepting of women in the field since she started her career. She hopes that her work at public events on fire prevention education “helps kids see that a woman can be a firefighter.”
Deimeke worked as a volunteer at Little Dixie while also working fulltime at Spartan Light Metals and raising a family. Hoover said one of the things he will miss about having Deimeke on his crew was her willingness to work overnight shifts at Spartan so that she could work days at Little Dixie.
“It’s not easy finding volunteers for the day shifts, so we really appreciated that,” he said.
Deimeke also donated the gas cards she received back to the station to help offset the costs of new equipment and expenses.
Lieutenant Josh Biggers said Deimeke’s enthusiasm and knowledge will be sorely missed by the team. “She always has a smile on her face,” he said. “She’s always helping out, and knows what needs to be done without being told.”
For her part, Deimeke, who came to be known as “Mama” by many in the District, said she will miss the “family atmosphere” at the station, which “helps a lot with the traumatic days” that inevitably come with the job.
Some of the toughest Deimeke recalls were a search and rescue operation for a young Amish boy who had drowned and the more recent death of State Highway Patrol trooper James Bava.
“Sometimes we’ll call each other at home, because it helps just to talk to someone else who was there and who understands what you’re going through,” she said.
There were also plenty of good days, Deimeke said. “The best days were the ones where everybody came home safe,” she said. The most rewarding part of her career, Deimeke said, was the gratitude often expressed by those she was able to help. “Just hearing people say ‘thank you’ means a lot,” she said.
As for her plans after retiring from the station, Deimeke said she expects her family will keep her plenty busy.
“I have three teens and they’re all active in school,” she said. Her youngest, 14 year-old Audri, is considering following in her mother’s footsteps. Deimeke can’t conceal her pride when recalling her daughter’s recent work photographing a structure fire training exercise for Little Dixie. “When she came out of the house after taking pictures, and I saw the look on her face, I said, ‘Yep, she’s hooked!’”
Deimeke had some advice for girls and young women who are considering a career in firefightering: “Don’t give up, and don’t let anybody stand in your way. You can overcome any obstacles; just show people that you can do the job.”