Trailblazing firefighter Roseanne Moreland has set a standard of excellence with Ocala Fire Rescue.
Roseanne Moreland always excels in anything she does. She never backs down from a challenge. She set the tone for women moving forward. She can hang with the big boys.Those are the words Moreland’s youngest sister, Lindsey Marsh, uses to describe the first woman to rise to the rank of engine captain with Ocala Fire Rescue (OFR). More than a sibling’s admiration for her mentor and hero, Marsh’s words speak a truth backed up by Moreland’s 33 years of experience and on-the-job excellence in service to Ocala residents.
Moreland, whose title is Fire Captain/Paramedic, started with OFR in 1989. She was promoted to captain in 1997.
Coming from a family with roots deeply embedded in farm-ing and ranching, Moreland did not set out to become a stereo-type-smashing role model for young women.
“I came to Florida as a little girl. My grandfather retired from ranching in Nebraska and we followed him here to Florida,” she says.
After graduating from high school in Lake County, Moreland came to Ocala to pursue her interest in horticulture in the highly regarded program at what is now the College of Central Florida. She was in school and working part time at a feed store when a customer happened to mention that the Florida State Fire College was in Ocala. Intrigued, Moreland reasoned that if she was going to be doing heavy manual labor anyway, she might as well go to the fi re college and give firefighting a try.
“I had the opportunity put in front of me,” she says. “I took it and still haven’t left after 33 years.”
Moreland enrolled in the fire college in 1988. The tuition was $99 for a six-week course.
“I can guarantee it’s not that anymore,” she says with a chuckle. Indeed not. The tuition for the four courses in the Firefighter 1 curriculum totals $600 and the college now offers more than 40 courses that cover the full spectrum of firefighter training and continuing education.
THERE TO HELP
Firefighter training isn’t the only thing that has changed in the years since Moreland joined the force. In addition to advances in firefighting and emergency response, there has been a sea change in opportunities for women not only to join OFR, but to rise through the ranks to senior positions.
“I wasn’t the first woman on the force,” Moreland notes. “Someone else broke the ice. But it wasn’t very popular back then for women to become firefighters. It’s a very physically demanding job and there are physiological differences between men and women. As a woman, you go in knowing it’s not going to be easy.”
OFR’s first female firefighter, Marilyn Johnson, was hired in 1985.
“As a young female in the fire service in the late 1980s, I set a high bar to assess myself,” Moreland shares “I always wanted to make sure I could pull my own weight and not be a burden to anybody else. I think I was harder on myself than anyone else just to make sure I always performed well.”
Like Moreland did as a new hire at OFR, today’s rookie firefighters must first go through a probationary period and meet certain expectations, including performing well under pressure and willingly taking on the routine tasks that make life at the station run smoothly for all.
“Those basic expectations really haven’t changed to this day,” she says. “We have a good working team; everybody shoulders the work equally. We all have our assignments; everybody shares the load.
“Not everybody can do this type of work,” she adds. “Some people think we just put out fires, but that’s not all we’re trained for. We respond to medical emergencies, automobile accidents, building collapses, hazardous materials and a lot more.
“The burden of working in emergency situations and dealing with other people’s pain can take a real toll,” she admits. “You have to find ways to mentally protect yourself.”
But, Moreland notes, one of the most rewarding aspects of her work is knowing that she has been able to help and console someone in extraordinarily difficult circumstances and make their situation “a little less scary.”
“And that’s something we have to teach the younger firefighters who are coming in, that we’re there to help fix the broken,” she notes. “It’s a very taxing profession, but it’s also very rewarding. When you truly help somebody, you can see it on their face. You can see the appreciation in their eyes.”
A SPECIAL CALLING
Life at OFR isn’t all about racing to the aid of people in need with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Life at the station, Moreland explains, is a lot like maintaining a household.
“We clean our stations, we clean our trucks, we clean our apparatus and we cook our own meals,’’ she explains. “When I first started, we would even mow the grass and do the yardwork.”
Because the station becomes the firefighter’s home away from home, as with any family, the ability to “get along well with others is a must,” she says.
Moreland is very clear in her conviction that the fire service is a special calling, just like law enforcement or public education. If young women are interested in a career as a firefighter, she says, “They have to understand that being a fire-fighter is not a nine-to-five job. A third of your life, you’re either coming or going to the fi rehouse. It’s much more than just a job, it’s a way of life.
“It’s a dynamic, always-changing profession,” she is quick to add. “Look at me. I wasn’t the first, and I won’t be the last. That’s great opportunity.”
Over her years of service, as Moreland continued her training and expanded her range of expertise, all the hard work and demonstrated leadership paid off in her promotion to engine captain, the first female in OFR’s history to achieve that rank.
Then, in 2014, her already exemplary career took a life-altering turn. With a training program grant from State Farm Insurance, Moreland became the department’s first arson K-9 handler. Aft er rigorous coursework in this highly specialized discipline, Moreland met her new four-legged partner, Gracie, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever specially trained to sniff out accelerants oft en used by arsonists to start fires. The duo’s job was to find evidence for prosecuting crimes.
“Gracie came to me at a turning point in my career and breathed fresh air into it,” Moreland recalls. “I think that’s what helped give me the longevity I’ve had. Most firefighters retire aft er 25 years, on average. This new role and responsibilities gave me a nice change and the opportunity to develop a program that I could take out to children in our community.
“When Gracie retired from her arson work, we moved her over into the public education sector. She loves to go into the schools and teach dog bite prevention. She captivates people’s attention, especially the little ones. They’re automatically drawn to Gracie and that makes it easier for them to pay attention. People may not remember me, but they always remember Gracie.”
COMMITTED TO EXCELLENCE
True to her rancher roots and like many in Marion County, Moreland loves horses. And as in most anything she does, she commits to excellence.
“I’ve got some girlfriends in the community who do different types of equestrian sports. I’ve competed in equestrian events and tried endurance riding,” she says. “Because I’m a firefighter, I was able to do it without too much hardship and since we’re in the Horse Capital of the World, we have all kinds of opportunities here.”
Moreland capitalizes on those opportunities and, true to form, does nothing halfway. Last summer, she embarked on a 10-day trek on horseback, camping and exploring the wilderness near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
ON BEING A MENTOR
“I didn’t consider myself a mentor until my youngest sister told me as an adult how much I mentored her just by having the determination to do what I was doing,” Moreland states. “I never really gave it much thought, but she says she watched me go through all the obstacles throughout my career and overcome them. My goal was always to try to do it gracefully. It’s a constant practice.”
Marsh, a licensed mental health counselor, con-fi rms what her sister remembers.
“Roseanne is a trailblazer,” Marsh offers. “Being in a male-dominated field, you have to be extra strong just to prove yourself.”
When asked what kind of advice older sister Roseanne has given her, Marsh replies, “Watching her as I was growing up, she didn’t have to say anything. She led by example. Her actions speak louder than words.” OS