Simmons blazes her own trail as Dover firefighter

Capt. Deana Simmons recently become the first woman to earn a spot as a line officer in the Robbins Hose Fire Company No. 1’s 130-plus year history. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Trailblazer? Nah. Deana Simmons says she’s just a proud member of an extended family whose members happily volunteer their time to help keep the Dover Fire Department rolling along.

However, the 26-year-old Dover resident’s resume begs to differ. She wears many hats, and her passion and dedication to her work recently helped her become the first woman to earn a spot as a line officer in the Robbins Hose Fire Company No. 1’s 130-plus year history.

“I don’t necessarily feel like a trailblazer,” said Capt. Simmons, who has been a volunteer firefighter for the past five years. “I didn’t really do it for any recognition or anything like that. I’ve had many mentors along the way and I just like to step up and help out as much as I can, and this year it so happened to fall in line in with becoming a captain for the line officers.”

The most important responsibility of fire line officers is for the firefighters in their command. Fire officers are responsible for the training, efficiency, discipline, morale and safety of all the firefighters in their command

Capt. Simmons, a 2013 graduate of Dover High School, was also the recipient of the prestigious Fire Chief’s Award for 2019. So yes, even if she doesn’t, one can call her a true trailblazer.

“Our Fire Chief’s Award (went) to an individual who does just about everything,” Dover Fire Chief Ronald Rhodes said, about Ms. Simmons. “She is currently serving as one of my fire line captains. Last year, she was fire recorder, she was our company secretary taking all the minutes at the meeting … She also did all our personnel work, new applicants, backgrounds, interviews and that type of thing.

“That’s why she got the award. Secretary’s no small job, personnel’s a huge job, and now she’s one of my line officers.”

William “Bill” Hare, Dover City Council president, said Capt. Simmons leaves an impressive impression.

“Deana Simmons, at the annual (Dover Fire Department) banquet, I kind of got the feeling the fire department wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for her because of all she does,” he said.

While Capt. Simmons handles much of the supporting and behind the scenes roles within the department, there’s nothing that gives her more adrenaline than getting up early in the morning and racing to the fire station, hastily putting on her firefighting equipment and climbing behind the steering wheel of one of those bright-red trucks.

“I was pretty excited about (winning the Chief’s Award, it was a lot of hard work,” she said. “Everybody’s always putting in a lot of hard work around the fire department and it’s important to step up and be able to accomplish a lot of goals that we need to accomplish. I have to admit, being able to be recognized for that was pretty awesome.

“We’re not here to say, ‘We want to go to fires,’ because that’s creating an issue, but being able to perform and do our jobs and do it well and being able to protect the citizens of the city of Dover is most definitely one of the best parts about it.”

Finding her calling

After Ms. Simmons graduated high school, she enlisted in the Army, where she served two-and-a-half years before she experienced some hearing difficulties that led her to get discharged.

Capt. Simmons, a 2013 graduate of Dover High School, was also the recipient of the prestigious Fire Chief’s Award for 2019.

“When I got out of the Army, I came home, and then I was working at a sales department and I just kind of got bored and a friend of mine was like, ‘Hey you should come join the fire department … come join the fire department,’” she said. “Well, I finally listened to him and I joined, and I’ve been here ever since then.”

Perhaps the most amazing thing is Capt. Simmons tries to put in at least five hours a day with the fire department while also working as a full-time emergency medical technician with St. Francis Healthcare in its Wilmington division.

She credits the time she spent volunteering with the Dover Fire Department to helping her find her true calling as a first responder.

“We do all our (fire) classes out of Delaware State Fire School and one of the classes that they offer is an EMT course, so I took the EMT course and got my card and I’ve been working for St. Francis ever since then,” said Capt. Simmons.

While she worked as the Dover Fire Department’s secretary, worked in the personnel department under the personnel director and was fire recorder last year, she added the role as second line fire captain while continuing those other duties this year.

Ms. Simmons said if anybody needs a hero to just look within the walls of the Dover Fire Department. They have plenty to go around.

“I think one of the big things that the people don’t know is we’re volunteer,” she said. “Even though it says it on the side of the building, a lot of people don’t know about it. That’s not something you hear very often.

“We’re 100 percent volunteer, and a fun fact is we’re the only state capital that’s protected by a volunteer fire department. Any other state capital in the United States is protected by a paid department. We’re the only volunteer department and we’re always looking for volunteers whether you’re young or middle-aged or older. If you’re able-bodied and able to do things, absolutely we’d love to have you come out here and volunteer with us. We’re always accepting volunteers.”

Volunteerism opportunities

Capt. Simmons stressed that volunteering for the fire department can open doors to anyone who is interested — just like it did for her.

“There are many, many places this place can take you,” Capt. Simmons said of the fire department. “A lot of our line officers are currently paid firemen in other places, but still volunteer their time here because this is where they started. There are different opportunities and fire school opportunities and things of that nature. There’s so much to get into, so much to do … it does take a lot of time, but it’s absolutely worth it.”

While Ms. Simmons is unique in that she is the first woman — African-American or otherwise — to serve as a line officer for the fire department, she said she is not alone, noting there are a couple of other black women who often ride in the fire trucks.

“The atmosphere here is wonderful,” Capt. Simmons said. “We’re all like one big family 100 percent of the time. They’re all like my little annoying brothers and sisters or aunts and uncles and a lot of the guys who are officers have always been mentors and always are willing to help out and teach everybody new things.

“There’s tons of camaraderie and sportsmanship here. Everybody’s really great and we work together really well.”

Being a firefighter is also a job that will certainly keep a person busy. The fire department ran around 1,330 calls last year — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sometimes there are as many as seven calls in a day, sometimes none.

It is that uncertainty that has volunteers like Capt. Simmons on edge and ready to burst into action all the time.

“If I’m at home and it’s two o’clock in the morning and the pager goes off and I’m available, you can bet I’m coming in,” Capt. Simmons said.

“I really like it. It’s a great time and a great team to be a part of. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”