Dana Ruark Becomes Greenwood’s First Female Firefighter
Photographer / Ellie Sophia Photography
On January 21, four new Greenwood Firefighters were sworn in. This marked a huge accomplishment for all of them, but the ceremony was a milestone for the Greenwood Fire Department. On that day, the first-ever female career firefighter in Greenwood Fire Department history, Dana Ruark, accomplished her goal to become a member of the team that seeks to preserve the life and property of area residents.
The training to become a career firefighter is extensive. It involves passing both demanding physical assessments and written exams. Dedication and perseverance are needed to make it all the way to the end of the multi-month, or even more than a year, process.
Darin Hoggatt, Greenwood Fire Chief explains how Ruark was able to meet the standards.
“She has the drive and the passion to make herself and the community better,” he says. “She never let that drive dwindle down throughout the process. The physical agility part of the training either makes or breaks people. She never stopped working toward her goal.”
Originally from Park County, Ruark was the first in her family to attend college. She moved to Indianapolis in 2005 to attend IUPUI where she earned an exercise science degree. Upon graduating, she worked in various jobs such as a personal trainer and in a cardiac rehabilitation facility. However, she never felt satisfied that she had found her niche in the working world.
“Since I went to college, my family had extremely high expectations for me,” Ruark says. “They hoped I would go on to medical school and become something like a cardiologist. But I realized that kind of environment wasn’t my passion.
“My husband Donny is a fireman as well. When he was working at the firehouse, I would come and hang out with him. I loved the environment and I loved the people. I had the idea that I would start my own business to help firefighters and first responders keep up their fitness levels. So, I started training with everyone. I was jumping out of windows doing bail out training when people said, ‘You are doing everything we are doing. Why don’t you just become a firefighter?’”
The journey to be a firefighter takes time and determination. There are multiple steps that involve studying best practices, physical agility development and panel and one-on-one interviews. Possible candidates must train to become EMTs. Ruark thought about it long and hard before she began to take the steps needed to become a career firefighter.
“I didn’t want to be the weak link,” she says. “I was afraid I couldn’t carry the load, meaning not keep up with the physical stuff. I wanted to be an asset. So, I did things before I was asked. I worked out extra hard and if I felt like I didn’t do something right, I asked if I could do it again. I didn’t do any of it to show off- I just really knew I had to show up and work over 100%. And I wanted to learn the correct techniques.”
One aspect that Ruark had to conquer is her fear of heights. On demand, candidates are required to climb a 95’ ladder which is set at a 70-degree angle. It was a year before she overcame her anxiety.
“Every Friday I worked on it,” she says. “I would climb as high as I could go and then go down and try again. Sometimes, I just came down and cried. But I knew if I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t have this job. Eventually, I got to the point where I could go all the way to the top and talk on the microphone up there. It was time well spent and it was necessary because sometimes on runs we must climb to the top of roofs and check HVAC systems.”
Ruark enjoys the camaraderie and the variety that her job offers. On busy days, she may go on a dozen runs. Several are 911 calls and involve medical emergencies such as someone experiencing breathing issues or suffering from cardiac arrest. Other runs involve household or larger fires.
“I fell in love with this job,” Ruark adds. “I like the physical challenge and every day brings something different. I feel like I’ve been accepted into this family and I wasn’t pushed out. My advice, not just women but to everyone, is that to pursue being a career firefighter you have to have the heart to show up, push yourself and give yourself time to learn. You don’t have to be perfect from the beginning.
“It is an honor to serve as a Greenwood Firefighter. I want to thank the city council and Mayor Mark Myers for approving me to be here. I appreciate this opportunity.”