Vineland’s First Female Career Firefighter Off To Bright Start
By Eric Conklin
When Kaylynn Low chose wearing fire gear over holding hair salon scissors, little did she know she would make history in the city.
Low is Vineland’s first female career firefighter.
“I think (firefighting) is thrilling,” the 26-year-old Vineland woman said outside City Hall on her first day on the job Tuesday, standing next to one of the firetrucks she’ll be riding on. “It’s always different. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Low, who turns 27 next month, was sworn into the Fire Department last Friday with her coworkers Eric Peck and Brian Wheeler Jr.
Low has served the department as a volunteer, she said, but she wanted to make helping people and saving lives her full-time occupation.
She has a line of first-responder family members supporting her, including an uncle, grandfather, and both parents.
“I think I always wanted to be a firefighter, and it just didn’t happen right when I wanted it to,” Low said. “They (family) have definitely influenced my decision.”
Low, who lived in Toms River until she was 10, graduated from Vineland High School in 2013. Afterward, she entered a nine-month-long beauty school program, helping her land a job at the Hair Cuttery in Vineland. She cut hair there for about six years, she said.
Once COVID-19 forced the salon to close, Low switched professions, becoming a dispatcher for the Cumberland County 911 Emergency Communications Center while doing emergency medical services work on the side, she said.
“It just kind of fell into place,” Low said of her journey in first-responder work.
Low’s duties now transition from working behind the desk as a dispatcher to making Vineland’s firehouse on Fourth Street her living quarters for a full day.
She’ll then use two days off to spend time with family and friends, she said.
Being a woman and a firefighter may be challenging, but it’s not impossible, Low said. Being short — Low is 5-foot-7 — can make the job tough, let alone the occasional comments from people suggesting a woman can’t do what historically has been known as a man’s job.
But that doesn’t scare her away from helping others.
“Her heart, her ability, and her courage is three times her size,” fire Chief Lou Tramontana said.
So far, Low has had more support than critics, she said.
“I think before, having women in the fire service was completely frowned upon,” Low said. “Now, a lot of people are more open to it, and there’s less judgment towards it.”
Low enjoys how her spot in the department can influence other women to take up firefighting. Anyone can do the job, she said.
The men shouldn’t be looked at as intimidating either, she added.
“They’re a lot softer than you think,” Low joked.
Low joins a small group of women nationally who chose firefighting over other professions.
While the number of female firefighters has increased over the years, especially in leadership roles, they account for less than 10% of firefighters nationwide, according to 2020 figures from the National Fire Protection Association.
The NFPA report examined 29,705 local and municipal departments across the country. Estimates from 2018 suggest about 93,700 of about 1.11 million firefighters were women. Most (11%) are volunteers, while even fewer (4%) are paid.
Vineland’s leaders hope Low’s journey as a first responder will bring other women to the city’s emergency departments. Diversifying the city’s workforce is one of Mayor Anthony Fanucci’s goals, he said.
“Our administration has taken significant pride in the fact that we’ve broken a number of gender barriers and race barriers since we’ve been in office,” Fanucci said.
Most importantly, neither man wants Low’s historical hire to make people overlook why she’s in her new role.
“Her skills and abilities are paramount,” Tramontana said. “She knows what she’s doing, she’s not afraid of anything and she does a great job.”