Firefighting pioneer

At Work

Lt. Vernese Osborne broke new ground for female firefighters in Baltimore

May 30, 2007|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to the Sun

Vernese Osborne


Squad 40, Baltimore City Fire Department

Salary --$80,000

Age: --41

Years on the job --18

How she got started --Osborne wanted to be a paramedic and started to receive her training from the Baltimore City Fire Department. But as she went through the program, she decided to switch and become a firefighter. "I just fell in love with it. I liked the excitement."

She went on to become the first female pump operator. Responsibilities included driving the fire engine and its crew to emergencies and directing water distribution at a fire. She also was the city's first female lieutenant and the first woman to head a fire suppression company.

About a year ago, she switched positions and went to work as the director of operations for the Office of Emergency Management. But the death of a female cadet in a training exercise three months ago led to a leadership shake-up at the fire department's training academy because national safety standards were not followed. Osborne was asked to work at the academy and to help out with the female cadets.

It was during this time that she realized how much she missed being a firefighter and the camaraderie that went with that position. She asked for and received a transfer.

Typical day --She works a schedule of two days, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and two nights, 5 p.m. to 7 a.m., with four consecutive days off. As supervisor of her squad, she oversees three firefighters. On a busy day, they might respond to as many as 20 calls. It's likely they will remain at a fire scene for three or four hours depending on the circumstances.

Squad 40, which is located at 3906 Liberty Heights Ave., is also a rescue unit. This means when they are not taking calls they are often training in rescue and emergency operations.

Osborne also oversees the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program for the city. The program trains residents in disaster preparedness.

The main lesson the CERT program teaches --Be prepared. "They are their first responders and should be prepared to be without assistance for 72 hours in the event of a major disaster."

The good --"The schedule and the camaraderie with the guys. It's like a family."

The bad --"Seeing children get hurt."

Toll on the body --Osborne said it can be a physically demanding job, but thinks she has at least a few more good years ahead of her. She often lifts weights and works out while at work.

The danger of the job --"I've been doing this for so long. I think the hardest part is keeping an eye out for the new people and getting them up to speed."

Nancy Jones-Bonbrest Special to The Sun

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