Jill Staaf '99

A Firefighter Blazing New Trails

Softball, graduate studies in counseling, and a stepmom all played supporting roles in Jill Staaf’s journey to becoming Meadville’s first female firefighter.

At Allegheny Staaf was a standout softball and volleyball player, co-captaining both squads. The psychology major’s career began predictably for someone with those athletic credentials: she worked first as an assistant softball coach at Centenary College in Louisiana and then as head coach at Lakeland College in Wisconsin, where she earned a master’s degree in counseling.

staafA community service requirement for the degree prompted Staaf to join the local volunteer fire department. “I just loved it,” she says. “It was exciting and challenging and a team atmosphere, which is what I really liked about playing sports at Allegheny.”

A few months later, Staaf’s stepmother told her that the City of Meadville had an opening for a firefighter. “I thought, Well, it’s worth a shot,” she says.

And indeed it was. In August 2004, she returned to her native northwestern Pennsylvania to join the Meadville Fire Department. “There are always the stereotypes,” she says, “and it was almost like breaking into the good old boys club.” But acceptance and respect came quickly from her male colleagues, especially after Staaf worked her first structure fire.

Staaf says that with structure fires unpredictability adds to the challenge of what’s already a difficult task. “You could be sitting there eating dinner, and then, all of a sudden, two minutes later, you’re in the middle of the fire,” she explains. “That’s the tough part—making sure that you’re seeing everything as you’re doing it, not rushing in with a closed mind, but watching for changing conditions, making sure the building is staying structurally sound. There’s a lot to watch out for.”

But the job entails much more than battling blazes. Staaf, who is a certified emergency medical technician, says preparation is paramount—checking each morning that radios and communication systems work properly, maintaining vehicles and other equipment, and participating in ongoing training.

Staaf also coordinates a popular program that allows local citizens to bring in child car seats for safety inspections. Along with ensuring that seats are properly installed, the department replaces damaged or outdated ones free of charge, thanks to a grant Staaf secured.

It’s the satisfaction that comes from helping others that drives Staaf to continually hone her skills.

“Every fire, every accident, even every EMS (Emergency Medical Services) call is so different,” she says. “Whether it’s how to handle a patient, or where to position the trucks, or how to attack a certain fire, you’re learning something new all the time.”

—Josh Tysiachney

This article was featured in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue of Allegheny Magazine.