When 2007 became 2008 at midnight, many 16-year-old girls were with friends holding their breath in anticipation of a New Year’s kiss.
One student, just a high school junior at the time, had her holiday warmed not by sweaters and hot chocolate, but by swirling flames lapping up the dry Texas grass.
Freshman chemistry major Ashley Parr grew up in Tomball, Texas, surrounded by fire engines and water hoses. Her father has been a firefighter for more than 30 years, and she has been volunteering with him since she was 13. Her youth and small feminine frame do not seem to match the job, but fighting fires is her passion.
“I wanted my (fire) gear before I got my driver’s license,” she said.
Parr collected hundreds of hours of experience and recently became certified to enter structural fires.
Most of her time volunteering was spent training and working outside the
buildings at real burns, but she fought many grass fires. Her excitement to enter a burning building is obvious.
“It’s one of those things you have to be there to experience,” she said. “It’s
amazing watching fi re roll across the ceiling or slither through the smoke.
It gets hot. It’s kind of a weird feeling when you’re in all this gear, and the
air you’re breathing gets warm and your eyes start to dry out.
”While her family is deeply attached to the firefighting community, her parents understand the pressure and danger of the job. Her mother has been
left alone at restaurants and stores while Parr and her father respond to a call.
More troublesome than the inconvenience of missed meals is knowing how many firefighters do not come home.
“My dad said I can’t be a structural firefighter all my life,” Parr said.
Now in college, her chemistry major with an emphasis in hazardous waste management will prepare her for a career handling dangerous chemical accidents. She first became interested in hazardous materials on a fire call.
“We had a fuel leak at one of the … gas stations,” she said. “He ended up dumping most of his truck, 500 gallons of gasoline all over the ground.”
These kinds of incidents will become common for Parr if she continues in this field.
Several people are confident in her future, including teachers.
“She’s bright and can do well,” chemistry professor Dr. Ruth Murphy said. “Companies would rather pay someone and pay them well to handle chemicals than pay if someone sues them for doing it incorrectly.”
For now, Parr is still fighting fires when she goes home and may volunteer locally soon. Everywhere she goes, she talks about her experiences.
“I just gave my speech in public speaking today over why people should become a firefighter,” she said, laughing.
Friends at home often went to the station and on call with her. Here, friends just enjoy the stories.
“She talks about it nonstop,” freshman nursing major Marissa Fannin said with a laugh. Her eyes darted to her friend as she began to tease her.
“She brings it up, talks about individual firefighters and how she loves them, talks about her dad, shares fire stories, talks about going home and what she will do, talks about the burn she missed last weekend ….”
According to Murphy, chemistry is a difficult major and many people change. Parr has many more semesters before she can begin following
her goals, but she is determined.
She said, “I love to fight fires.”