Women’s History Month feature: Tinker firefighter is ‘just one of the guys’

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. Armstrong
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Robin Edmiaston is just one of the guys ... kind of. Excluding her love for pretty shoes, getting dressed up and fidgeting with shimmery lip gloss, she's devoted to her career -- as a firefighter.

Ms. Edmiaston stumbled into the male-dominated career field 16 years ago. Call it an accident, clerical error or destiny, but it was a start that taught her about perseverance and beating the odds. These days, Ms. Edmiaston is not known as "Tinker's only female firefighter," but rather as "a driver operator at the Tinker Fire Department."

"Honestly, I don't look at Robin any differently than I do any of the other firefighters here. They are all brothers and sisters to me and they all make me look good with what they do each and every day," said Terry Ford, Tinker Fire and Emergency Services chief. "I have to say that the key thing that stands out about her is her experience, both as a Marine and a Department of Defense Fire Academy instructor."

When Ms. Edmiaston enlisted in the Marine Corps she said she was "guaranteed" a spot in airfield services, which she thought meant air traffic control services. In actuality, it meant firefighting. Unsure of whether she should speak up, she approached two supervisors and told them about her dilemma.

"They were like, 'You can't do it? You can't be a firefighter? What's wrong?'" Ms. Edmiaston said. "I was like, 'Yes, I could.' Those two guys convinced me that I'd be a good firefighter and just because I'm so stubborn, I was like, 'Oh yes I could!' They had me pretty fired up by the time I started school."

Through the Marines, Ms. Edmiaston spent nine years as a firefighter. The job led her to Japan, Arizona and the DOD Fire Academy at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas. There, the staff sergeant left the military and applied to return to her home state, Oklahoma.

Two-and-a-half years ago the Hollis native arrived at Tinker.

"This is where I've wanted to be forever and this is where I will be forever," Ms. Edmiaston said.

Ms. Edmiaston said being a firefighter has taught her a lot about herself and challenging her body. Even before she entered the military, Ms. Edmiaston was physically fit. She enjoyed sports and played several throughout the year. But, by being in a career field where men are naturally at an advantage and have considerably more upper-body strength, Ms. Edmiaston learned to be creative and find alternatives.

"Instead of brute strength, I have to sometimes figure out another way to do it," she said. "Like, find a technique where I can use my legs or I can ask for help and not have to worry about supporting a male ego.

"But, you don't really know your body's limits until they're tested," she said. "Just because you can't do something the first time, doesn't mean you're not going to do it later."

As a result, Ms. Edmiaston is helping to break barriers. Whereas one time it was unheard of to be a female firefighter, now it isn't. And she's proof.

Ms. Edmiaston said she recently went to a child development center and saw their amazed reactions when she walked in with several of her male peers.

"It really sticks in those little kids' minds, 'Hey, there's a girl firefighter,'" she said with a thick Oklahoma drawl. "I think it's really good not to put perimeters on kids' minds. If they grow up seeing a female firefighter, it will be more natural and acceptable."

When Ms. Edmiaston is not at the fire station, she pursues other interests. She said she is a thesis away from her master's degree in Safety and Aeronautical Science. She also sells real estate, so she can dress up in nice clothes and wear pretty shoes.