BOSTON- Margaret Carrigan, from Arlington, Mass., is just one of the guys. Standing tall with her shoulder-length brown hair, golden highlights and dolled up nails, you wouldn't assume it, but Carrigan is just another firefighter at Engine 2 for the Cambridge Fire Department's Lafayette Company.
"It's a lot of fun working with all the guys. They are great guys. I love working with them," Carrigan said. "I've never had a problem on being treated differently. I'm always treated the same. I'm expected to do the same work, whether it's physical or the housekeeping or sometimes I'm the acting lieutenant and they treat me like they would the regular lieutenant."
All in the Family
Carrigan, 36, or Meg to friends and family, doubles as a nurse at Winchester Hospital in Winchester, Mass., and has been a firefighter for nearly 11 years. She began her career in public service fresh out of high school, when she went into emergency medical services (EMS) as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and worked herself through nursing school.
She began her nursing training at Lawrence Memorial in Medford, Mass., but later participated in the Novice Nurse Program at Winchester Hospital. She eventually underwent the 12-week training period for firefighters and became the only female firefighter for the Arlington Fire Department. After six years in Arlington, Carrigan and her brother Andrew, who is also a firefighter, transferred to the Cambridge Fire Department.
Public service runs in the Carrigan family. Carrigan's father, Owen, worked as a lawyer but also has EMY training and her two brothers, Andrew and Owen, have worked as EMTs and firefighters. Becoming a firefighter was a natural decision, Carrigan said, and added that she was following in her brother's footsteps. "I went from having two brothers to having 200," she joked about the move.
Boys vs. Girls
Carrigan's firefighting brothers don't spare her from friendly badgering, she said. "She's easy to pick on," said fellow firefighter Bryan O'Neil, 41, from Quincy, Mass. The brothers are always quick to call her out when she can't do something or when she looks too "girly." The fact that her brother Andrew also worked with them is just "added ammunition," said O'Neil.
"In the firehouse, I'm Meg the girl, the girly-girl, but then when you get to a fire or you get a medical call, something needs to be carried or something needs to be done, they know that I'm there," Carrigan said in her defense. "I have to adapt and they have to adapt."
But Carrigan also knows that they have her back if she were to need it. "They are very, very protective of me and they would never let anything happen to me," she said.
O'Neil, who works in the same station as Carrigan but on Squad 2 as firefighter paramedic, said that she's driven in everything she does. He also said that it helps that she has medical training.
Fellow Engine 2 firefighter Robert McCarthy,26, from Haverhill, Mass., said, "She meshes really well, I would say, better than some guys that work here." McCarthy was transferred from Cambridge Fire Department Engine 8 to Engine 2 nearly six months ago. He said, "She was one of the ones that helped me assimilate myself down here after the transfer from Engine 8. I owe her a lot of gratitude for that."
For the Love of Firefighting
Carrigan said she loves being a firefighter too much to ever consider another career. "The fact that you are always helping someone at their worst. Or the day that you go over to someone's house and the family heirloom that you bring out to them, that you saved, that makes a difference to people. I love it."
O'Neil said, "She's genuinely concerned to make sure that other people are happy. You know, she goes out of her way. And she takes a lot of stuff personally, but that's because she cares."
Carrigan said that she also enjoys the balance she can get from working as a firefighter and as a nurse. "I know when I'm here for 24 hours, I'm one of the guys. When I'm at the hospital, I'm one of the girls with my little cute scrubs on," she said.
"Sometimes it can be tough being in the dorm room with all the guys but you get use to it," Carrigan added. Back during her days in Arlington, she said she had her own living quarters and was a bit secluded from her fellow firefighters, which she said made connecting to them very difficult.
Along with getting along with her male coworkers, Carrigan said the danger of the work she does is always on her mind. She describes a particular incident on Memorial Drive, when she entered a fire that was hotter than usual. "You don't really think of it, it's your job, you just go in and do it and then afterwards it's an afterthought that you're like 'What the!'"
Carrigan said that she would definitely like to get married in the future and maybe have children. Her two-day-a-week work schedule allows her to meet other people but she admitted that her profession puts people off. Despite that, she said, "I would never give up the firefighting unless I absolutely had to because I love it."