IT wasn't that part-time cook Shernette Sutherland couldn't stand the heat, why she got out of the kitchen last year -- it was that she loved it.
She turned away from tending the flames under her frying pans in the kitchen of the Waterford Fire Station in St Catherine and donned the red and yellow firefighters uniform of those she used to cook for.
After 10 years she had an 'Aha!' moment when she recognised that the benefits that came with being a firefighter far outweighed that of a cook and decided she wanted nothing else than to be one of them.
"I saw where it was the best way for me to go financially, socially, and also it provides a lot of opportunities. Plus, it's a balanced job," Sutherland explained to the Jamaica Observer just over a week ago.
"It's a reliable job and it also provides 100 per cent health care."
On July 6, 2012, Sutherland graduated from training school, pushing the contingent of female firefighters in the island up to 203. The remaining 1,511 in the fire services are male.
"It was kind of challenging at first because it kind of keeps you away from your family, but it's a good job," she said.
"When you out there and helping people and seeing the gratitude on people's face... and even as a female, when people see you holding the branch (equipment attached to the firehose used in putting out fires) and outing fires, it makes you feel good 'cause they always calling to you and cheering you on," she said proudly. "Most of the time they are not used to seeing female firefighters, so when they do see females they make you feel good about it and they make you feel good about doing your job."
Sutherland said she is accepted by her male counterparts in what is still considered a predominantly male job, due, in part, to her 10-year history in the firehouse kitchen.
"Because they know me for so long because I was cooking there, it was kind of like I was a part of the family already and it wasn't very challenging for me fitting in," she said. "I can't speak for other females, they may have a different view, but the men have been very supportive of me and they will show me how to do my job and they want you to learn to do your job properly," she added.
At just 5'2", the 138-pound woman admitted that she is one of the shortest firefighters in the Jamaica Fire Brigade, but this makes her no less capable.
"It's physical and it's really a man's job, but if you put all your ability into it and all the techniques that you learn, then you can do it.
"Doing your job is not only about strength, it's also about technique and you can learn your own techniques how to do your work without it being much of a physical thing. But it is a challenging job."
Sutherland recalled being sent out to her first accident scene some weeks ago and the emotional impact it had on her when a life could not be saved.
"That was the first accident scene for me and it was very challenging," she recalled. "When I first went on the scene and saw family members crying, I felt as if I wanted to cry, but I had to pull myself together and focus on the job at hand and what I needed to do."
However, despite the efforts by herself and her colleagues, a man died after being trapped inside a vehicle.
Another challenge she recalled was going on the scene of a fire at a store in Portmore where looters shoved her out of the way as she tried to douse the flames so they could get inside the blazing building to steal its contents.
"I didn't know being a firefighter was such a hard job until I went into it," she said.
Sutherland has a nine-year-old daughter whom she said is very unhappy when she has to work night shifts. However, she tries to make up for it when she is around by spending quality time with her. As a single mom, she said her mother plays a major role in caring for her daughter in her absence and is very supportive of her choice of jobs.
While Sutherland recently took her place in the ranks of Jamaican firefighters, Assistant Superintendent Dorrel McKennis has been in the Brigade since 1977, from the days when women were only allowed to have desk jobs.
"Back then the service was different as females were not trained as firefighters and to ride the fire engines, they were trained as office workers; answering telephones, keeping records, etc," she said.
"It is still considered a male profession but since 1995 when the service was changed over it has been amalgamated, so you have one Jamaica Fire Brigade because they started training females and males together."
That year, the first set of female firefighters went to training school and officially started riding the fire units when they were deployed. Today, females are expected to do the same job as their male counterparts .
"You are trained to do everything that the males are doing," McKennis said. "So you won't hear that because you are a female you are not supposed to do this or do that; you are getting the same pay, same work, everything equal across the board."
McKennis said her climb up the ranks over the years as a woman in the fire services was very challenging.
"I ensured that I constantly upgraded myself academically," McKennis said. "I did basic courses until I achieved my associate degree at the University of the West Indies (UWI). Then I went on to do my bachelor's with Northern Caribbean University (NCU)."
The assistant superintendent said she believes that she truly earned her current position.
She recalled the days when answering the phone was her main duty as a member of the fire service.'s when still young on the job, my experience with the Eventide fire. I was the person who was working at the PBX section when the call came in," she recalled. "The person said one thing but we were trained that once you can 'cipher out' what it is, you are to immediately turn out the unit. And I got that one fated call and we turned out the entire unit."
However, that did not stop the fiery deaths of 105 persons at that seniors' home.
"I will never forget it. It was a terrible sight, terrible sight," she said, recalling how she saw crumpled, burnt bodies everywhere in the ashes.
McKennis said while her two children are now grown, she had no problem raising them as she received support from her husband and other family members.
Corporal Sophia Morgan from the Fire Prevention and Public Relations Department said she was among just 20 female recruits in her intake of about 200.
"Most of the time the percentage of women that they train is very minimal compared [to males]," she said. "But the training for women is the same as that given to the men."
For her, aside from the philanthropic rationale that she is saving lives and property, getting into a male-dominant field gives Morgan an adrenaline rush.
"When the bell is turned up and you have to grab all your gear and you jump to your unit and blaze into the traffic with siren and all, it gives you a kind of satisfaction at the end of the duty, when you know you would have saved somebody's property, or you would have saved somebody's life, so that is really good. That is the part of the job that I really like."
Working with the men has not been difficult, she said.
"I used to work on operation, or 'suppression' as we call it. I used to do everything, drive the unit, put out fires just like the men."
However, these days she works at the emergency unit and no longer rides the fire engine.
"There are times when you get bored," she admitted. "There are times when you really don't have anything to do because it is an emergency department so you don't really get to go out and do something unless somebody call in for an emergency."
The 6'1" graduate of the Northern Caribbean University who has a degree in mass communication with an emphasis on public relations, said she will eventually want to do something else.
Morgan said she wants to start her master's degree, but has not yet made up her mind as to what field of study she wants to pursue.
At the Falmouth Fire Station in Trelawny, district officer Caula Brown would have gone into a male-dominant job one way or the other, having first wanted to become a solider. But then her obsession with the flashing lights atop emergency vehicles, the sound of the sirens and her desire to be an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) got the better of her. She joined the fire service in 1996.
"I was fascinated with sirens growing up," Brown told Sunday Observer.
"I don't have a problem with the men," she said. "Being a woman, you know that you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself, but for me what I have to do I'm doing it, and I don't see it as different because right now I'm a district officer so I'm out there and I have to play a lead role because I gradually worked myself through the ranks," Brown said. "So I don't see where it is that difficult being a woman in a male-dominant field."
District Officer Oneil Bryson from the Falmouth Fire Station said firefighters are not classified by gender and some females actually outdo their male counterparts on the job.
"Every duty that the males do the females do them also, because here we don't classify persons as male and females, they are firefighters," Bryson said. "So you are just required to do the job that is there. But in truth and in fact, when you go out they (females) perform just as good. They are not weak and there is no task that we would give to a male that we wouldn't give to a female. As a matter of fact, some of them even perform better than the males," he said.
However, Brown said while the majority of firemen accept her as being their senior, a few have resisted taking orders from a woman.
"Some of them don't really see me as a woman leading them. But on the other hand, most of them respect me as a female and they see what I bring to the table and what I have to offer to them. The acceptance is really there. But I see firefighting as a career for me personally so I see myself in it for the rest of my life."
In fact, Brown's 20-year-old son (her only child) followed in her footsteps and graduated as a firefighter last year.
She studied introduction to labour studies and did the EMT course at UWI, pursuing advanced courses at UTech. Today she also serves as an EMT instructor.
Corporal Sharnet Hayles-Treasure truly enjoys her role as a firefighter.
"I love the job even though it is a male-dominant job, but as a female, I really love it," Hayles-Treasure said. "I like the firefighting aspect of it -- which includes going on the road. I have done that for the past five years. Now I am at the Fire Prevention Division because I want to be all rounded in each department. I want to know every aspect of the Jamaica Fire Brigade," she said.
Hayles-Treasure, who has been in the service for seven years, said she has found that her male colleagues tend to be overprotective.
"It's not about competition when it comes to working with the men," she said. "But what I notice is that the males are overprotective of the females. They rather to face it and put you behind. But sometimes we want to do it also. We want the experience, so we don't necessarily want them to put us behind... They would more want to send us for the stuff [equipment] on the unit and they would rather [that they] have the branch to face the fire.
"Maybe they think that we can't do it as quick as they can, but we can," she said. "It is still a male-dominant field because you have more males than females, but we can do it," she said, noting the ratio on the fire trucks is sometimes seven men to one female, because women are fewer in numbers.
Hayles-Treasure said she would encourage other women to join the brigade because there are a lot of opportunities in it.
"They give you the opportunity to go back to school to further yourself and also you can achieve alot. I have achieved gaining a house, motor car and now I am trying to send myself back to school. So you can elevate and reach to the top, once you do your best," she encouraged.
The women said they all have the support of their families as they carry out their jobs and are allowed to go home every day as soon as they have completed their shifts.