Blazing a trail: Fire department hires first female firefighter
DIXON — For as long as Crystal Brasington can remember, she has wanted to be a firefighter.
Growing up in Houston, the 31-year-old recalls having firefighters visit her elementary school and thinking how exciting and important their jobs seemed.
“As a kid, I was just like, they’re cool and they always do awesome stuff, and I was like, that’s what I want to do,” she said.
Now, 10 years after starting her career as a firefighter, she represents a new era for Dixon: She recently became the first female firefighter for the Dixon City Fire Department.
“I think it’s cool,” she said. “It’s pretty neat and, in all honesty, this department is amazing.”
Dixon isn’t the only Sauk Valley department with a low number of women. Sterling has never had a female firefighter, and Rock Falls has had only one.
Dixon Rural, on the other hand, has had five.
Brasington’s first job was at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston, where she was the second female firefighter ever hired.
It wasn’t the best experience, she said, and she ended up leaving the job. At Dixon, she explained, it feels different.
“It wasn’t great because the first woman I guess they didn’t like,” she said. “So there wasn’t anything I was going to do that they were going to like.
“This department is amazing – it’s nice to be the first one coming in because there’s no expectations, high or low, and they’ve just been really welcoming.”
Brasington’s daughter, Payton Thomas, is 4, soon to be 5. Since her daughter’s birth, Brasington has stayed at home to take care of her, but with the girl getting older, Brasington explained, the timing felt right to get back to work.
Her family members are moving to the Dixon area from Peru, where they’ve been living. When they first started talking about moving, she and her husband, Scott Thomas, made a list of towns they would be interested in moving to. Dixon topped it.
“Because my daughter is deaf and has cochlear implants, we took the cities in the area that we liked, and then we looked at their school districts to make sure that they could support her,” Brasington said.
And then one day, a friend gave her a flier about the Dixon job.
“This is an exciting time,” Chief Tim Shipman said. “We’re absolutely looking forward to having our first woman in the department and think she’s going to be a good asset for us and be a nice fit. it helps make the force of our department a more diverse crowd of people. I think it’s going to be a really good thing for us.”
Brasington’s first day was Sept. 30, and she was officially sworn in Oct. 7. Her husband and daughter attended the ceremony.
And so what does Payton think about all this?
“She thinks it’s cool,” Brasington said. But for now, at least, her interests lie elsewhere. “She wants to be a ballerina.”