VALDOSTA – “What you’re going to learn today could eventually save your life,” Tangela Rowe told a group of high school students recently.
Her tone was serious but her demeanor was relaxed as she enlightened about 30 Valdosta High School construction and welding students concerning fire-extinguisher safety.
Though the school requested the presentation, the fire and life safety educator regularly shares safety knowledge throughout the city.
Answering Phones to Fighting Fires
Rowe first joined the Valdosta Fire Department in April 2013 as a firefighter and emergency medical technician spending three years in operations.
“You want to help people, that’s clearly the reason why you would come into firefighting,” she said.
Having worked in customer service for four years, and then a caretaker for eight years, she came to the department with no prior fire training.
“All I could tell you were the trucks were red,” Rowe said. “Everything I’ve learned thus far, I’ve learned since I’ve gotten in fire service six years ago.”
She recalls responding to her first fire.
Until then, she’d been assisting with medical and other emergency calls.
It was about 4 or 5 a.m. when she received the call for the fire.
“It was like whoa,” Rowe said. “My adrenaline kicked in and I was ready. I was ready to get in and tackle it and do the job that I was trained for.”
There was no nervous panicking. Her VFD training prepared her.
Not only did her training see her through that fire, Rowe said it’s been getting her through the past six years.
In her opinion, firefighters do not truly know if they’re firefighters until the first fire.
“Once you get that first real fire and you go in there and you feel the heat and the intensity and the hotness of it and the urgency of the situation, either you’re going to know that you’re built for this job or you’re not,” Rowe said.
After proving her staying power extinguishing fires, she now works to prevent them.
Rowe has been working as a fire inspector, fire investigator and educator.
“Both sides I love equally,” she said. “I have an affinity for the firefighting as well as an affinity for the prevention side. I understand both components and why they’re both very necessary.”
Her days consist of installing smoke alarms, participating in career day, teaching fire-safety classes for the community, inspections and participating in a juvenile fire setter program for young kids who have started fires.
Rowe maintains her certifications and may revert back to working as an EMT or firefighter if necessary.
She assists residents in understanding ways they may put themselves in danger, such as overloading an extension cord.
“My heart is in prevention,” Rowe said. “My heart is in teaching people how to save their own lives.”
She prefers people learn how to prevent fires, but if they happen, she encourages them to have fire extinguishers and smoke alarms in place.
Some people have said her lessons have exposed fire dangers they didn’t know they faced.
“It lets you know that what you do matters,” Rowe said. “It really does matter and people see the value in the work that you do.”
One person that values her work ethic is her supervisor, Fire Marshal James Clinkscales.
He noted Rowe’s extensive involvement in city initiatives such as the infant car seat installation and the Valdosta Police Defy programs.
“In my honest opinion, Tangela Rowe is a very important asset to the fire-prevention division, the Valdosta Fire Department and the Valdosta and Lowndes County entire community,” he said.
He highlighted her evolution of the smoke alarm installation program saying she has personally installed 95 percent of the city’s smoke alarms.
“Ms. Rowe’s great work ethic aids in relieving smoke alarm installations for firefighters on shift,” he said.
Motivation and Influence
With a fire department that has more than 100 males, Rowe is one of seven females in the department.
She said she desires to be an inspiration to women.
“I am working very diligently to recruit as many women as I can to get them to get over the fears,” she said.
Most women are afraid to join and do not believe they can complete the tasks.
As for Rowe, joining the VFD has taught her about new abilities and traits she didn’t realize she possessed.
“It was challenging but I was able to do it,” she said. “That gave me insight into myself that I didn’t even realize I was capable of.”
Not only did she learn she could physically be a firefighter, she learned how to be compassionate.
Rowe continues to stand in the forefront and advocate for more women to become firefighters but women are just one group she hopes to influence.
She wishes to motivate young girls who may look up to her.
“There’s no greater feeling than walking into one of our elementary schools here in the City of Valdosta and the little girls in the halls as I’m walking by and they just flip out,” Rowe said.
“They’re excited to see a firefighter, a female, somebody that looks like them. That’s so very important in a community. These kids, they need to see somebody doing something and envision themselves being able to do the same thing, if not better.”
While with the VFD, Rowe has received the 2016 Firefighter of the Year award from the Georgia State Firefighter’s Association.
She is a member of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Georgia Public Safety Educators Association, Georgia Fire Inspectors Association, National Fire Academy Alumni and the International Association of Arson Investigators.
She holds at least 13 professional certifications and will be graduating in October with a master's degree in public administration and policy from Purdue University Global.
Rowe agrees that she does a dangerous job but she shows no signs in stopping any time soon.
“Somebody has to do it, it might as well be me,” she said.