It has been a busy year for the 11 women of the Southern Female Firefighters aside from working long hours at their respective firehouses, their constant training, and being first responders to chaos in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, these women have been able to come together and accomplish something wonderful for a 16-year-old young woman with a rare form of cancer.
Cancer Horizons was able to catch up with the Southern Female Firefighters founder Shannon Sauls and get the real story behind the organization and what they have been able to accomplish.
“The Southern Female Firefighters began in basically began this year (2016) in July. I was playing in a fundraiser softball tournament for this young lady with this very rare form of cancer on July 16th. At the tournament was her mother, and her twin sister. That really got me, you know, meeting the mother of this sick young woman, and then meeting her twin. It got me because I am the mother of twins, so I could just see the hardship on every level.”
Kyley is a 16-year-old woman who is fighting a very rare form of cancer called synovial sarcoma. A synovial sarcoma is a form of “soft-tissue” sarcoma. Sarcomas typically occur in the bones and connective tissue such as fat and muscle. Kyley’s cancer occurs only in about 1 to 3 out of a million people and manifests itself near the joints of the arms, legs, and neck. Synovial sarcoma is problematic because it can go unnoticed for a very long time, and when the tumor grows large enough it can restrict the range of motion and numbness and pain if the tumor pressed down on nearby nerves.
Kyley bravely began treatment for this rare form of cancer, when her insurance company refused to pay for treatment that is vital to her survival.
“I went to the woman in charge of the tournament and told her I would do “something” to help… by the time the tournament was over I told her I would try to put together an All-Female Firefighter Calendar… little did I know what I was getting into.”
All-Male Firefighter Calendars have been around for a long time, how long you ask? Well, the Houston Texas Fire Department for example has been publishing one since 1990. There have been a few calendars featuring woman firefighters, but they were general calendars of women from all over the country, and in fact, it was only this year the FDNY did a female calendar. So, the idea of these Southern Firefighting & EMT Women coming together on their own and creating something like this is all the more impressive. This calendar is different because it arose from grassroots origins, and the very best intentions, but it was fraught with difficulty.
“So, off I went optimistic and hopeful, starting this long journey that I thought would just be a breeze; Little did I know in the South this kind of thing is frown upon, women of any kind on a calendar let alone women firefighters. First off I had to ask my Chief’s permission to even be “in” the calendar. After I got his approval, I began contacting female firefighters I knew. After a lot of phone calls all over Alabama, Georgia, & South Carolina I had 11 women, all firefighters, agree.”
Once the proverbial smoke cleared they set about taking pictures for the 2017 calendar, which “very tastefully” features some of the hardest working women in the South. In the end, the ladies featured in the calendar exemplify fitness, moral character, good health, and professionalism in the fire service. All of the women appear in either a tank top or sports bra and are respectfully covered. No picture in this calendar reflects poorly on any of the firefighters.
“Of the women who participated in the calendar 3 are married, and 3 have children! Go, Moms! All the rest of us have boyfriends and every husband and boyfriend was incredibly supportive of all of us throughout the entire process. Some of the women were total naturals on camera, but not me. I had not even considered that when I started this whole thing… but I “hate” the camera… it was brutal for me, that shoot, I am “August” just so you know.”
But, getting the women to agree to participate and having the photo shoot was only the beginning. Despite there being a multiple decade history of male firefighters being on calendars sold to benefit charity the Southern Female Firefighters came up against some strong resistance.
“Really, for us, the hardest thing was to find a fire department and firehouse that would even “let” us take the pictures. I assumed this would be the easiest thing of all, but that was not the case. We were 12 hours away from the actual photo shot when one particular Chief went out on a limb for us and said “yes”.
If you notice in all the pictures you cannot see who we work for on our uniforms, or who the engine belongs to. We could not pose with any firefighting equipment, and trust me we use a ton of equipment. No logos, no nothing, which is the only way we could make this calendar happen, and that is a little sad to me. I have been a firefighter for over 12 years, we hope what we have done here opens things up a bit more.”
“In the end, the photo shoot took an entire day, and then we had to do a follow-up shoot due to issues on some pictures from the first shoot. My favorite thing about the shoot and the calendar is that Kyley was able to participate. Kyley’s birthday is in November, so the November page features a very wholesome and lovely collage of pictures of Kyley and her family.”
There were issues with the printing, and then once they had that resolved and were getting ready to mail Hurricane Matthew hit and not only put the mailing on hold, it put these Firefighting Women to work serving their communities.
“Oh yeah, right at the finish line when we are starting to ship, here comes Hurricane Matthew. Some of our Southern Female Firefighter members were on shift 72 hours straight. For many communities, there were mandatory evacuations, including where many of us lived… but that was not gonna stop us!”
Kyley – with the calendar open to her page featuring herself and family & friends
Southern Female Firefighters at a signing hosted by Buffalo Wild Wings, Beaufort SC
“At this point we have shipped out all of the calendars that have been ordered; so far that is just a touch over 400. That unfortunately is a small amount when we have to pay for printing the calendars, envelopes, shipping costs. And the time involved, my family has been great understanding that this is important to me. I mean I spent 7 hours one day just getting all the calendars into mailing envelopes, then a big chuck of time at the post office the next day.”
To promote the calendar’s the women of the Southern Female Firefighters have been doing promotional appearances at various Buffalo Wild Wings locations as seen in the photo above. Buffalo Wild Wings actually has a rather long history of giving back to their community which you can read about here. The Southern Female Firefighters have also received support from the region’s top radio stations WIXV I-95 “The Rock of Savannah” & KIX 96 “Savannah & Hilton Head’s Hit Country Station”.
“I have to say I could not have done all this without the help of one of the other firefighters on the calendar, Heather McVey, who picture is featured on the June page. She is married and has a wonderful little boy. She and I have become very good friends since we started working on the calendar. We started out as colleagues dedicated to a cause, and just became great friends, so giving has its own rewards, right?”
If fact once this round of calendars is shipped, it is far from the end for the Southern Female Firefighters… They have become a registered 501-C3 non-profit charity. These women are now dedicated to continuing their charitable activities and to be role models to younger women, letting them know that a woman can do anything she sets her mind to.
We encourage you to sponsor or support this fine organization of female firefighters. To see all the women who are featured on this calendar click here and don’t forget to buy a calendar they make great Christmas presents.