Thriving Women in the Middleton Fire Department

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MTT News's picture
Mila Hayes-Morales

Deneen Carmichael is a mother of two and a small business owner. Jennifer Johnson is an international non-profit attorney. But those are just their day jobs, like Clark Kent’s gig at the Daily Planet.

These local women are also part of a profession where courage and integrity are their most valuable assets. They can wake up in the middle of the night to answer their pagers and potentially save lives. They wear heavy, hot and uncomfortable clothing for work. They lug cumbersome equipment up tall ladders and pry open car doors following accidents.

They hold the hands of people in need and comfort them in hard times.

Carmichael and Johnson are volunteer firefighters with the Middleton Fire Department.

Johnson has been living in Middleton for about two years. She bought a house and opened her own non-profit consulting company called NCG. She is also an international non-profit attorney and she loves what she does.

Johnson was born in the Milwaukee area and her family owns a sausage company in Wisconsin. She went to boarding school, lived in Egypt for a while and came back to the United States to accomplish her mission through her non-profit work.

Carmichael has lived in Middleton for four years and has two daughters. Her latest project is a women’s boutique called Nina’s in downtown Middleton. Right after she graduated from college in Virginia, she started working at the Virginia Zoo in the Conservation Department and lived in Africa for about two years.

Traveling as the Head of the Virginia Zoo Conservation Department, she realized that pursuing a doctorate in her professional field was not her dream - so she decided to keep working for the zoo and in 2004 moved to Ohio. She and her family moved to Wisconsin in 2008 and she decided to become a professional ballroom dancer.

“I decided there is a moment in time that I was able to be a professional ballroom dancer so I did it,” she said. “I opened a dance studio and I sold it after a while to open the boutique called Neena.”

Both women recognize that perseverance and fearless attitudes are the key to succeeding in the current world.

“The hell with limitations,” said Johnson. “If you have something in your guts or in your heart or there is something that you want to accomplish, then do it. You have to live your life so you can feel fulfilled each day. Whatever that is -firefighting, traveling, baking.”

As a child, Johnson dreamed of being a firefighter and her constant positivism, courage and hard work eventually paid off. She is expected to graduate this spring with the new Middleton Fire Department trainees as a volunteer firefighter.

In 1970, just 11 percent of the women population graduated from college, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2012, that number had risen to 38 percent. But despite such strides, pay gaps between men and women persist in the United States.

On Monday of this week, Women’s Day was be celebrated around the world. Here in Wisconsin, many organizations held free dinners, concerts, brunches and other activities to honor brave and unique women in our society.

The day was meant to celebrate women’s successes, but also to shine a spotlight on lingering inequalities. For instance, less than 20 percent of Congress is female, which places the United States behind China and Afghanistan in that regard.

While their day jobs garner Johnson and Carmichael a certain amount of respect, their work with the Middleton Fire Department illustrates how public safety organizations are increasingly open and welcoming to women.

They both agreed that Fire Chief Aaron Harris and the entire department made them feel welcome and appreciated.

“I had a sense this is unique of this area,” observed Carmichael. “I don’t think it is common. Middleton is a very supportive environment for women to get started and all along the way I have never ever felt [any indication] that I am not competent or I shouldn’t be here. This is a very respectful environment.”

Like Johnson and Carmichael, many professional women in Middleton and beyond are trying to be recognized and thrive in a world that for so long was dominated by men.

“Fear, bias, non acceptance or failure - you have to get past that,” said Carmichael. “You have just one life, you got this one life and we get older and older and if it doesn’t work out at least you did something, you learned something about yourself. That is huge.”


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