PATERSON, NJ - Busy with the responsibility of supervising dispatchers and making sure the Department’s handheld radios are all in working order, Elizabeth (Beth) Anne Fournier, 48, took a short break from her duties recently to meet with a reporter in the 2nd floor conference room of Paterson Fire Headquarters.
Wearing her Department issued station gear, hair pulled back in a ponytail, she smiles softly. Papers and files spread out in front of her, it is clear that she takes her work, including helping to spearhead the merger of the Paterson Fire Department and Police Department dispatch operations, seriously. Although she means business, her approachable manner is welcoming to anyone that enters the room.
One year ago today Fournier became the first female Captain of the Paterson Fire Department. Having worked her way up the ranks and serving as pump operator, driver, hose line work, and EMT, this was another milestone in her more than 15-year career with the department.
“I didn’t take this job to prove that a woman can do a man’s job,” says Fournier. “I took this job because it was a job I knew I could do and I like working hard at it.”
While laser focused on her current duties, Fournier says that she is also willing to take on new tasks while making sure she is always “giving 150 percent.” Her career aspirations don’t end at her current rank, she explained.
“Hopefully one day I can make it to battalion chief,” says Fournier. “That’s my long-term goal.”
Fournier became a firefighter because she observed her father, Erwin (Butch) Melhorn, work at the West Orange Auxilary Fire Department where she grew up. She recalled watching him respond to a bad fire. This left an impact on her, she said, and she wanted to experience the same thing.
“I love knowing that I can either help to make a difference or help in any way, shape, or form,” says Fournier.
After attending Marylawn of the Oranges High School and obtaining a business management degree from Salisbury University, Fournier decided to enter the fire service, saying she was drawn to work in Paterson because of the strength of the Department.
“I knew this was an amazing department and I wanted to be part of it,” explains Fournier. “There was an opportunity for me to work for such an amazing department, so close to Pequannock” where she currently lives with her husband and son.
While Fournier said she has enjoyed many aspects of her job as a firefighter, her favorite part, she told TAPinto Paterson, has been challenging herself on a daily basis.
“You come to work and you can never plan your day,” she says. “At any given moment there can be either a fire or there’s an incident and there’s always something different and challenging. It’s always changing.”
Although she “did not take the job as being the first of anything,” Fournier understands that becoming the first female captain is very significant to the City of Paterson. She wants people to use her story as motivation to work hard and never give up.
“No matter what gender you are, hard work pays of,” she says. “If you work hard for something and can do the job, anything is possible.”
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Casey Ferrante is entering her second year at Georgetown and an intern for TAPinto Paterson.
Editor’s Note: The publisher of TAPinto Paterson also serves as a spokesman for Paterson FMBA Local 2