Born in Greenville, S.C., Becky Anderson has always had a desire to fight for others. Mike and Jessie Anderson brought their two daughters to Chattanooga when Becky was in the seventh grade and her sister Kristen was in elementary school. Becky was a tomboy as a child and her father took her on many fishing trips.
“He didn’t have a boy - so I was kind of his boy. I wanted to be a police officer when I was little and, when I got older, I got my criminal justice degree,” Becky says.
She had gotten a glimpse into the life of a police officer and she decided that wasn’t for her.
“I wanted to look into something else like EMS, Fire and Dispatch. I saw that Bradley County had posted a job for a dispatcher so I tried it out and I ended up liking it. I initially wanted to work with juvenile or probation but it was hard to get into then because they want to hire older people for that,” Becky insists.
“I really didn’t want to be a firefighter at first, but my best friend Nicole’s husband was Shane Daughetee,” she pauses.
Firefighter Daughetee was an active member of the Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department for seven years. He was named "Firefighter of the Year" just one month prior to his tragic death in a fire in 2007.
“When he died, I moved in with her and tried to help her cope; she was having a really hard time with it. So I just started hanging out with the crew at 58 a lot more. Then I went to first responder school and later they asked me if I wanted to go to Rookie School. I thought, ‘eh, I’ll try it’ - at first I didn’t want to do it at all. Once I got into class and saw what all you got to do, it was a lot of fun,” Becky claims. She has been with the Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department since 2007.
A year later Becky began working at Bradley County 911 service though still volunteers with the Fire Department where she is county and state certified.
“We are volunteers and we can get toned out at 3 o clock in the morning for a med-call or a house fire and you don’t get paid to do it. It’s something I like and it gets me involved in my community,” she says.
Becky met her boyfriend of three years, Bo Wilkerson, at Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department when he was a rookie. He works for the city of Cleveland’s Parks and Recreation Center. Bo had recently gone through testing with Bradley County Fire and Rescue and hopes to become a full-time firefighter with Bradley County.
Being in any EMS position allows for danger in a sundry of instances. Becky explains how a recent call went during the beginning of this hot July.
“This guy was making homemade gasoline for farm equipment and somehow his garage caught on fire. It was pretty crazy, because there were a lot of explosions. If you got hit with one of the propane tanks – you’re done for. It took about three hours to put out the fire and with most of it we had to just let it burn itself out with a controlled burn. The house was okay - it was on the other side of the driveway from the garage,” Becky states.
When tones went out for a structure fire on Grasshopper Road recently, Becky and Bo were the first on the scene. “We had to pass it, going to the hall. It was tough. People don’t seem to want to volunteer anymore and there is less help available for immediate response without volunteers,” Becky says.
Though there are sleep-deprived nights and dangerous occasions, Becky has a good time with her fellow firefighters. “Every rookie is supposed to get initiated. "We use water balloons or some kind of practical joke. When they were going to initiate me I knew they were going to do it, they tried to open up one of our tankers because it carries about 2,000 gallons of water and they tried to soak me with it – they didn’t get me. I have sent rookies out to the truck to go after ‘50 feet of shoreline’ - which doesn’t exist,” Becky laughs. “We joke a lot – you kind of have to.”
The jokes were certainly played on Becky during her time of being a rookie as she recalls an embarrassing moment. “When you are in rookie school you are always freaked-out because you don’t really know what to do and you have to follow directions,” Becky says.
Having to put out a chimney fire on Ooltewah-Georgetown Road, the chief asked her to go outside and bring back a ‘halogen bar’. “I ran out through the storm door - with clear glass and on the way back in; I forgot about the door. I ran into it face first and knocked the door off the hinges. The owner was sort of mad because he said he just put that door up. I felt horrible,” Becky admits.
For the next few weeks bottles of Windex glass cleaner would show up on her gear rack. “You know the commercial where the glass is so clean that birds fly into it? They kept making jokes about that and, of course, I ran into that door with everybody standing outside. You don’t want to mess up as a rookie,” Becky laughs.
At Hamilton County 911 employees have specific duties to take care of, but with Bradley County being smaller, Becky does it all. “You are trained on every consul t- law enforcement, fire and EMS. If I take a 911 call where it’s a CPR in progress, I have to talk them through it and keep them calm but at the same point, I have to send my two ambulances and a supervisor – it gets a little hectic, but it works,” she says.
“I worked EMS last year when we had the tornados and it killed, I think, six or nine people in Bradley County. I was working there that night and it was crazy. I never want to go through that again. I was proud of myself for going through it. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world, but it was definitely something that tested me,” Becky reveals.
“We have eight 911 lines and we were getting so many calls in that I am sure people were getting busy signals. At one point there were about 400 calls on the screen and we normally have about 15,” Becky states.
Being a woman firefighter brings the question of how she is treated by the men at the Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department. “I am just one of the guys,” Becky insists. “They know I am a girl, so they don’t say anything too offensive. We all kind of have our cliques and the ones with the Northside station – they pretty much know what is acceptable and what is not.”
Becky, still somewhat a tomboy, has been in wedding parties of her friends and had to wear a dress. “I hated that. I was sweating so nervously because I hate wearing dresses that I put paper towels under my arms. I can stand dresses and high heels. I’d rather have a fire helmet,” Becky laughs.
She tries to explain the indescribable relationships in which firefighters have amid one another.
“It’s like a second family; I am with these people probably more than my own family. You get put in situations that you would never get put in with just anybody. Having to fight an interior house fire or rescuing someone who has been in a car wreck or burned up and you have to totally trust each other 100 percent. It’s a weird relationship, but a close one,” Becky maintains.
Firefighters take risk every day but volunteers are not paid to take those risks. Becky’s devotion is clear when she says, “You do it because it’s in your blood and it’s what you want to do. If we didn’t volunteer, you wouldn’t have as immediate a response with emergencies in this area.”
Becky determines, “It’s comforting when you have something happen in your community and you see someone pull up that you have gone to church with or that you went to school with - it feels more personal.”