Connie Jenkins of Jamestown will mark her 10-year anniversary next month of being a firefighter for the Jamestown Fire Department. She has also been a reserve deputy for the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office for five years.
For Jenkins, it isn’t hard to separate the two roles from each other, nor from her full-time work as a case manager working with mentally ill and addiction populations 18 and up for South Central Human Services in Jamestown. She has worked there for 21 years.
When you ask Jenkins why she does it all, the answer comes quickly.
“A recurring thing to me is, ‘what do I need to do,’” Jenkins said. It’s a simple statement that has guided her life and her life’s work here - to serve others.
As the first woman firefighter on the Jamestown Fire Department, Jenkins brought experience as a range aid/fire technician for the Bureau of Land Management in her home state of Montana. But it wasn’t something she planned to do in her future; at the time it was a means to help pay for school.
After moving to Jamestown in the 1990s to attend college then later marrying, Jenkins thought about firefighting again. In fact, it came up during her marriage but her priorities were different, she said. After her divorce, the idea resurfaced.
Brian Kamlitz, who served on the Jamestown Fire Department, approached her about applying.
“Hey, Connie, you still interested in joining the department?”
“What do I need to do,” Jenkins said.
The timing was right this time.
“I was scared to death,” she said, when it was time to test to become a JFD firefighter.
The woman who had fought fires in Montana found herself on new ground.
“You can’t get shocked by a tree or you don’t have media around the corner and the public eye when you’re out in the boonies, so it’s a different atmosphere,” she said.
She failed two parts of the test the first time, then passed them on the second try. Since then, she has never considered giving up firefighting as long as she can physically do the job.
“They’re my family,” she said. “It’s a brotherhood. And part of brotherhood is ‘her.’ And Jerry Kainz (the late JFD deputy chief) pointed that out to me. … ‘her’ is right in the middle of it (the word brotherhood). You know … I’m family to them. They’re like my brothers, uncles, dads. They’re family. And the rest of my family is in Montana.”
Two years ago when she had surgery, “one of my guys” took her to the hospital and stayed there, she said. “And I had my sheriff guys checking on me too. They’re family.”
Jim Reuther, fire chief for the Jamestown Fire Department, said Jenkins has helped other firefighters since becoming one in October 2009.
“She’s definitely a role model for any other female firefighter that would ever want to join the department. Everything she does, she puts 110 percent into it,” he said.
He said she continues to learn, to teach and to help others.
“I know one thing, I wouldn’t have a problem of her backing me up in a fire, I can tell you that right now,” Reuther said.
Jenkins said it’s an adrenalin rush when the pager goes off for a call.
“To see how I can help. Make a difference,” she said.
There is a need for firefighters in Jamestown. The Jamestown Fire Department currently has 29 firefighters and 38 when fully staffed, according to Lt. Sheldon Mohr, JFD training officer.
“I think the term volunteer firefighter throws people off, because we do get paid,” Jenkins said. “We get paid to have our training each month, you know if we respond to a ready squad call or a fire call we get paid. There’s some departments that don’t so there’s financial incentive there.”
When Jenkins was asked if she wanted to become a diver for the Stutsman County Dive Team, she responded with “What do I need to do.” Then, while learning to scuba dive, a reserve deputy for the Stutsman County Sheriff's Office asked if she was thinking about becoming a reserve.
“And I’m like, 'what do I need to do,'” Jenkins said.
She is the only female in the reserves at this time.
“Connie does an excellent job,” said Chad Kaiser, Stutsman County sheriff. “She’s always willing to work and she does great at events and very personable. Loves to talk to people so she does a great job at any of those events that she does.”
Jenkins has worked security at the Stutsman County Fair, street dances, wedding receptions and court duty. She hasn’t transported prisoners yet, she said, although that is also a possible task. Reserves are required to work three events a year, usually during the summer. She works more than what’s required and said she likes the social aspect of the job.
“I’ve met a lot of awesome people,” she said.
Training for reserves is done in-house, typically over the “slow time” in the winter, Kaiser said. There are 19 reserve deputies at this time, he said.
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