Webster’s Dictionary describes the word courage as “Bravery; intrepidity; that quality of mind which enables one to encounter danger and difficulties with firmness, or without fear or depression of spirits; valor; boldness; resolution.”
For a single mom in the fire industry, courage for Michelle Meacham takes on an entire new meaning. With two young daughters at home who depend on her to be there, courage means survival. It means getting home to those who are most precious to her.
Graduating from Richmond Hill High School, Michelle originally wanted to go into the Air Force, but leaving her parents behind was something she was not prepared to do. Taking the advice of her best friend and mom Pam, Michelle started volunteering with the fire department and her passion for firefighting was born. “Michelle has always persevered because she loves the job and we are so proud of her” Pam said.
Meacham started her career in 1999 when she went through rookie school with the Savannah Fire Department. Upon finishing that training, Michelle was hired as the first paid firefighter for the Richmond Hill Fire Department and is currently the only female on staff there. After 10 years with the department they finally had enough people to move Michelle to a different rank and in 2012 she became a Lieutenant. In 2014, she was promoted to Captain and in 2016 was promoted to Operations Chief which moved her off shift and in charge of all operations for the fire department.
Being a female in a male dominated industry hasn’t always been easy. “You have to find a good balance between proving that you are capable of doing the job and not using your challenges as a crutch. I worked really hard at overcoming things that were physically difficult for me. When I first started in this career as a woman it was difficult because there weren’t many places or people to turn to that knew what I was going through or knew how to help me with the challenges.” Thankfully, there are now more groups where women can turn to for help, information and support in fire careers.
Being a part of a family at work is just as important as the family she leaves at home each day. When asked about what it’s like to be the only female on staff here, Michelle responded, “The guys that I work with are a true family. We are always here for each other in bad times and good times and are a great support system.” They treat her as their equal and she depends on them as much as they depend on her.
Chief Brendon Greene said, “I would not want to work here a day without her.” Such high praise comes from working with her hand in hand for the last five years. “Being in the trenches with her, she gives her blood, sweat and tears to this department 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
History books for Richmond Hill will no doubt mention Michelle Meacham as a pioneer for women in the industry here. Her own daughters as well as other young girls have someone that paved the way for the next generation and that fact is not lost on her. “I am a part of history in this town and my girls will be proud of that.”