Family affair

Elizabeth Barter is a rare commodity in the fire service world.

Not because she’s a woman in a stereotypically male-dominated profession. And not because she’s one of many in her family to be a firefighter – either in Dunkirk or Fredonia.

No, Barter is rare for a different reason: she’s a senior at Fredonia State University with a double major in English and history who hopes to go to graduate school.

“It’s kind of a family thing for us,” Barter said of joining the Fredonia Fire Department. “My dad has been a member for a long, long time. I figured I would join, too.”

Barter, 20, joined the fire department in 2010, although she was a member of Fredonia’s explorer program four years prior to that. Aside from her father, her sister also was a firefighter before going to back to school.

Her brother, meanwhile, went to a fire academy in Maryland before landing a paying job with the Dunkirk Fire Department.

“It’s really neat to see all of us together,” Barter said. “Although we all haven’t been on a call at the same time, we do sometimes see each other while we’re out there, and that’s pretty cool.”

County officials are hoping to use Barter’s work ethic and family ties in the trade to recruit more females into the fire service.

“She’s a smart young lady who has put in a fairly good balance between school and into the community,” said Dan Imfeld, Chautauqua County deputy fire coordinator. Imfeld added that within the last 30 years, the number of female firefighters has risen.

“We have been seeing a lot more women join the fire department,” he said. “We want people to know that this isn’t just for young males; this is something anyone young, old, male or female could do for their community.”

With school currently in between sessions, Barter has been pretty active lately; the Fredonia native has completed her scene support training and recently passed her New York state emergency medical technician class. She got an 83 on her final test.

“School definitely comes first for me,” said Barter, who is looking into schools in Pennsylvania for her graduate studies. “But I do plan to stay within the fire department for the long haul.”

Asked what has stood out for her thus far in her tenure, Barter noted the camaraderie within the fire department. That brotherhood, she said, is aided by her family members alongside her.

“I definitely think more women should look into it,” Barter said. “Like other women in our fire department, I like volunteering. I hate to think that some people think this is a job only for men.”

She added: “I can honestly say a few years ago I never would have thought I would be doing this. Now I have no problem patching people up and sending them off. You see a lot of interesting things.”