Endurance, strength, enthusiasm, persistence those are some of the key themes of the retro-styled Women of the Lynchburg Fire Department calendar that will bring some Lynchburg firefighting flair to peoples walls in 2018 and 2019.
Abbey Johnston, a captain whos been with the Lynchburg Fire Department for 13 years, said the 18-month calendar hits a number of highlights for the department. For one, she said its the first time the department has had enough women to feature in a calendar all 14 who were employed at the time of the photo shoots are included in the calendar. Two more have joined the department since.
Not everyone was all in for the calendar at first, though. Johnston said some firefighters or their families had reservations about the proposed pin-up nature of the photos. But, as Johnston assured them, the pictures would be fashionable and feminine, yet classy, with a retro, 1950s feel.
We wanted it to be respectful, she said. We wanted it to focus on strength, the different strengths that it takes to do the job, and to be honorable to all of our members: retired and current, male and female.
Other women featured in the calendar include administrative personnel and three women whove retired from the department.
One of those is Linda Eagle, the first woman to sign on with the fire department in 1980 after taking an EMT course and developing an interest in working there. Then in her early 20s, Eagle said a number of the older men who had been fighting fires for years met her with contempt, and she was a little intimidated to tread new ground at the time.
I think theyre a whole lot more accepting now than they were then, she said. It was a new thing and they didnt know how to really act and talk around the women.
She said some thought the physical demands of the job were too much for a woman to handle.
Other women had joined the department by the mid-80s when Eagle was transitioning from work in the Fire Marshals Office to the line, and she recalled a discussion with the chief about the departments social dynamic with women now in the mix.
Looking back on it now, it seemed kind of ridiculous, but they didnt know what to expect, she said. I think the perception of women has changed in the fire service. Its gotten a lot better.
The calendar also celebrates the Lynchburg Fire Departments 135th anniversary by featuring fire department relics dating back to the 1800s things like old equipment and helmets or a horse-drawn truck.
Johnston consulted with former firefighter Rod Smith to pick out and coordinate how the relics would be worked into the calendar and some pieces hadnt seen the light of day in quite a while. For some photos, she also touched base with individuals and businesses to arrange for horses and a Dalmatian to be brought into the shot and complete the classic firefighting tableau.
I kind of looked at [the firefighters] personalities and their requests … and matched them up with settings and tools that would really show who they are, she said.
Many of the photos were shot in public places around the city, but Johnston said they made sure only historical structures were pictured to fit in with the feel of the pictures.
Johnston said the prime motivation for setting the calendar plans in motion last spring was the medical diagnosis and resulting retirement of fellow firefighter David Cox.
Cox has been an avid supporter of the LFDs fundraising efforts as a Muscular Dystrophy Association partner through the International Association of Firefighters, she said. The department holds a Fill the Boot campaign at area businesses every year, and Johnston has coordinated LFDs collections for the Muscular Dystrophy Association since 2010.
Cox was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, a rare disease that affects muscle control and strength, in the spring, and friends and family have set up GoFundMe accounts to help with continuing treatment. Johnston said the idea to boost Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraising with sales of the calendar was formed with Cox in mind.
Hes this guy whos spent almost a decade and a half going out every year filling the boot and then hes diagnosed with this debilitating neuromuscular disease, she said. So this year, I wanted to step up our collections, our efforts, in honor of Dave.
For each $20 calendar sold, Johnston said $16 will go straight to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, while the remaining $4 will be recouped for the cost of printing.
A number of businesses and professionals in the city lent a helping hand to the project: Bee Line Transport offered to tow the antique vehicles into place for free; Lynchburg City Communications & Marketing personnel helped with graphic design work for the calendar; Bison Printing in Bedford offered discounted and deferred-cost printing; and Rhiannon Kathleen Studios took the photos pro bono in June and July.
The firefighters themselves have taken on organizing sales and shipping of the calendars themselves in their spare time, Johnston said.
Emily Harris, manager of Body Works Day Spa and Salon, said this was the first large-scale professional venture shed set out on with Johnston, a longtime friend. With Johnstons retro vision and the cause behind the calendar, Harris said she was on board immediately to offer her skills as a stylist to the project, free of charge.
The firefighters would turn up at her door at 6 and 7 a.m. for hair and makeup prior to the photo staging some of them after their 24-hour shifts on the job. While pampering and dolling them up, Harris said shed hear stories about their duties and methods of coping when the job gets tough.
It was really psychologically a great experience and I can now say that Ive met every single female firefighter in Lynchburg, she said. I would say theyre kind of trailblazers I didnt realize the history was so young.
Harris said Johnston came to the planning table armed to the nines with spreadsheets and schedules, and the other women of the LFD showed their professionalism throughout the process with their diligence and punctuality.
It was the most well-oiled machine Ive ever experienced, and that is not an exaggeration, she said.
When someone sees the women of the LFD sitting on an old fashioned fire truck in the calendar, Johnston said she wants them to see the sense of family that exists in the department and recognize the diversity of those that work there, knowing that firefighters are from all different walks of life.
On some level, we hope that itll be a good representation to young women to other people in the community, male and female alike, that it takes all different ages, body types and talents to do the job we do, she said. I think people have in their mind that everybody looks like somebody off the Chicago Fire [TV show] and thats just not true.
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Lynchburg fire captain spearheads calendar featuring ladies of the LFD – Lynchburg News and Advance