Jodie Carroll's childhood was a bit … unsettled.
Born in Minneapolis, she and her mother moved with her entrepreneur father to Boston, then Georgia, then back to Minneapolis. At age 11, Carroll moved with her family to a farm near Onamia, Minn. Athletic, with a love of physical activity, Carroll found belonging in sports. Still, being the only Black girl in school was culture shock.
High school graduation meant a return to Minneapolis. But a year at Augsburg University taught Carroll that college wasn't for her.
A series of jobs — "a little of this, a little of that" — followed. Then Carroll overheard a conversation at a party about the St. Paul Fire Department's upcoming Women's Expo.
"I went," she said. "And that was it for me. I knew it."
It was March 2018. She was 44 and a single mother of three girls. She threw herself into training and broke the women's record for test time, finishing the course — which must be completed in under 7 minutes — in 3 minutes, 7 seconds. Now 48 and a firefighter for nearly four years, Carroll recently agreed to share her story with Eye On St. Paul. This interview was edited for length.
Q: What specific training did you do to get ready for the firefighter test?
A: So, I taught three [fitness] classes a week at that time — using TRX [total-body resistance exercise] and kettlebells. Then we started doing more total body workouts. When I decided I was going to do [the firefighter test], I said, "OK everybody, we are going to train to be firefighters." And they were all for it.
Q: It wasn't so bad to be a fitness instructor while training to be a firefighter.
A: Yeah. Right? But I'm telling you though, when I did that test and went through it the first time, there was nothing like it. Oh, my goodness, it was hard. I thought, "Do I really want to do this?" Then my body settled down.
Q: What was it about becoming a firefighter that drove you?
A: It just feels natural to me. Like I belong.
Firefighting is a career that has purpose. It's the most rewarding feeling in the world to help others, especially in their time of distress. It is a blessing.
Q: After graduating from the academy, did you spend a year rotating through the different stations?
A: It was over three years. And there are three more tests to take in those three years — both written and physical. And there are [more] classes that you need to take in those three years.
Q: What are you doing now?
A: I just got appointed to a squad position. It's Squad 3. I'm at headquarters. We do rescues.
Q: Like, if people are trapped in a cave or tumble down a bluff?
A: Yep. Exactly. I did cave training last week. You go in where everybody else gets in. We're familiarizing ourselves with the caves in case we have to go in for a rescue.
Q: Do you want to do this for a while?
A: Yes. I have a plan. Five years.
Q: Then what?
A: The next step would be to [try for promotion]. Either to driver or to captain.
Q: Do you have more of a sense of urgency because you got going later than some do?
A: Yes and no. I think I learned growing up that you want to have a sense of urgency to all the things that you do. To accomplish stuff, you have to have a sense of urgency. I want to get it done. I don't want to deal with any more setbacks. So, yeah. Yes and no.
Q: What can you do now that you couldn't in your 20s?
A: Oh, you're just of a different mindset. Physically, I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life. Maybe, as a 20-year-old, you're just going to have more endurance.
Q: You felt like a fish out of water in Onamia. Is there a little bit of that, being a Black woman working as a firefighter?
A: It kind of feels sometimes that I'm back in Onamia. But it's gotten better, where sometimes there'll be two of us at a station together. Even two women at a station together. But, you know, the guys are great and everything. It's a different world than what it used to be.
Q: Do you feel any kind of extra weight as a Black woman?
A: I feel like eyes are on me more.
Q: People want to see if you can do it?
A: I mean, that's the only way. They don't want to hear you talking about it. They want to see it, that I am able to handle myself and back up my partners.
Q: What's this been like for your daughters?
A: I think they're proud. They're grown now, so they're out there doing their own thing. But I feel like I did my job. I feel honored to be able to do what I do, and, once again, it's about what you show them.
Q: What do you hope they've learned from you?
A: I hope they've learned to do whatever you put your mind to. You can do it. You can do anything.