Jen Bessler- Volunteer Firefighter
Registered Nurse. 20-Year GEVFC Volunteer. Company’s First Female Firefighter.
Nearly 20 years ago, Jen walked into a Meet and Greet at the Glen Ellyn Volunteer Fire Company. She had been searching for a way to help the community, and the postcard invite had caught her interest the past few years. She finally decided to go check it out. “From the minute I walked in the door, I was sold,” says Jen. This started a 19-year volunteer career with the GEVFC.
At the time, no woman had ever volunteered at the company, so it was not a typical recruit experience for the Company. “I’m 5’3” and not the strongest looking person,” says Jen. “There was a group who took me under their wings and said, ‘We are going to make this woman a firefighter.’ The first time I drove the engine, I had so many eyes watching me. I think there was some pressure, but I never let that get in the way.”
Jen has always believed successful volunteers—regardless of gender—share similar traits: they have a passion for learning, are dedicated, have a strong desire to help people—and they have to be willing to get up in the middle of the night.
“You have to be mentally strong, willing to act, willing to be part of a team. It’s a big commitment, but worth every moment.”
Now, so many years later, she’s realized some of the community impact of being a woman in the volunteer fire company. Jen insists it isn’t about her, but about what it represents to see a woman in the fire service. “During the parade, it’s the moms who say to their daughters and sons, look there’s a woman driving that engine,” says Jen. “That’s when I see this is making a difference. It’s a matter of respect for someone just taking that challenge.”
But the fact of the matter is, over the course of her volunteer career, she never gave being the first woman much thought. “I didn’t join to be the first woman. I joined because I wanted to do it. I’m not the strongest, but firefighting is all about teamwork. If you have team members, you work together to get the job done,” says Jen.
And to Jen, this philosophy applies to all people, men or women, who may be interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter at the GEVFC. Anyone with the right approach can do it. “You have to be mentally strong. You have to be willing to act. You have to be willing to be part of a team—it’s not all about holding your own, but there is responsibility on my side, doing my piece of the puzzle,” says Jen. “It’s a big commitment, but worth every moment.”
“It’s someone’s worst day—whether it’s a fire or their CO detector is going off—and you are there helping to make a difference. That’s really the best part. And you get to do it with people you have met who are now your friends.”
Jen’s top three reasons to volunteer:
Help others. The most rewarding part is helping another person or a group of people, on an individual or community level. Every day you are helping someone else on their worst day.
Build relationships. You develop relationships—not only within the fire company but within the village itself. “I know the police chief, for example—who I wouldn’t know otherwise if I wasn’t doing this,” says Jen.
Additional opportunities. “It opens other doors for you,” says Jen. You can do other volunteer opportunities with the group, like triathlons and marathons, helping the Glen Ellyn Junior Women’s Club provide gifts and food at Christmas, blood drives, and more.