By Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times
Being captain is an honor, said Florence Bradley, who was hired to work with the BFRS on Aug. 23, 1993.
“You’ve got to have experience and knowledge. You have to be a good leader, a good teacher, and an excellent communicator. It takes a lot of hard work to get here,” she said. “Compassion is very important. That’s a big part of this. If someone [on my crew] is having trouble learning a new thing or having family issues, I really want to know about it and help if I can. Being a firefighter, it’s very important that you’re healthy both physically and emotionally.”
Bradley is a 27-year BFRS veteran. Originally from Columbia, South Carolina, she attended the University of South Carolina for degrees in Insurance and Economic Security and Personnel Management. She met her husband, Guy, a Birmingham native, and moved to the city in 1986.
“I didn’t have much of a career before that. I always worked part-time jobs, like being a lifeguard or working [in the food-service industry],” she said, adding that she worked bank jobs for a few years after relocating to the Magic City.
Still, Bradley wanted a career that allowed her to exercise her passion for being active.
“I didn’t really enjoy my career in banking,” she said. “I’ve always been pretty sporty. I have a black belt in jiujitsu. I do triathlons. I’ve always ridden my bike a lot. A friend of mine [worked for] the fire department and told me I’d really enjoy being a firefighter. At the time, the BFRS was on a court order to hire women. I signed up and had what they were looking for, so they hired me.”
Bradley described working for the BFRS as a good challenge.
“You’re going on medical calls, going to fires, going to [hazardous materials, or hazmat], incidents, doing things you’d never dream of doing,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen the next day. Even after being with the department for 27 years, I’m still saying, ‘I’ve never done anything quite like that before.’”
Bradley’s varied experiences have helped her handle her job.
“I got a degree in fire science. The academy offers training courses, and I’ve been to seminars all over the country. I’ve been to a conference where someone who was a first responder to the Pentagon on 9/11 did a presentation on what happened there. We had a fire chief who was first on the scene when the tornadoes hit Tuscaloosa [in April 2011],” she said. “You learn through book learning, from what other people have done, and by what you do on your own.”
COVID-19 is a challenge the department faces on top of the medical emergencies and wrecks.
“You never get used to seeing someone’s family falling apart because they’ve just lost a loved one,” she said.
To help her cope, Bradley has her family—including daughters, Samantha and Laurel, and her church. She considers them great sources of comfort.
Due to the pandemic, her church went virtual services, which she has not been attending. Instead, Bradley takes to biking paths for comfort.
“When something’s really bothering me, I go mountain biking [at Oak Mountain State Park]. … By the time I’m done with my ride, it’s not bothering me anymore.”
With all that a firefighter can face, Bradley said the biggest payoff is being able to help.
“When we have somebody who is in physical distress and we’re able to help them, when we’re able to save their lives, it’s an amazing feeling,” she said. “It’s a very emotional and powerful feeling to know you’ve helped somebody who wouldn’t be [alive] if you hadn’t intervened; someone who wasn’t breathing or didn’t have a heartbeat and they recover; someone who’s overdosing on drugs and you give them Narcan, [the opioid-overdose antidote often carried by first responders]. There are the little things, too, like when someone has fallen and can’t get up or if someone just needs someone to talk to. I can’t tell you how many people my crew and I have saved over the years, but we do make a difference in the community.”
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