Former Softball Player Fighting Fires in Arizona

May 17, 2010


It’s common for young kids to aspire to be a police officer, or a firefighter or a pilot when they grow up. Although those dreams never really crossed Kassie Humphreys’ mind, it is exactly where she finds herself today, three years after graduating from the University of Kansas. The 25-year old former softball player works as a firefighter in her hometown of Phoenix, Ariz.

Humphreys graduated from Kansas in May 2007 after an impressive four-year career as a pitcher on the Jayhawk softball team. Humphreys ranks in the top 10 of literally every Kansas career pitching record, including third in school history with 735 strikeouts. She was also a member of KU’s 2005 and 2006 NCAA Tournament teams. In 2006, Humphreys tossed the Jayhawks’ win versus Oklahoma in the Big 12 Softball Championship to lead Kansas to its first conference championship.

Towards the end of her college career, Humphreys still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. A community health major, she knew she wanted a career that helped people, but a desk job was not something that appealed to her.

“I really wanted to keep with something that was team oriented,” said Humphreys. “I played softball my whole life but it was ending. I needed to be in some kind of environment where I felt like I was helping a team, doing physical work, but achieving a goal. That’s what makes me happy. And having a degree in community health I knew I wanted to help other people. I just didn’t know how.”

She got to talking with a friend from back home one day who was a firefighter and he suggested Humphreys go for a “ride-along” with a local fire department when she got back to town.

“They (the fire department) just let you show up and ride in the truck and go on calls with them to feel it out and see if you like it,” Humphreys said. “I went and I loved it so my friend told me the steps I needed to take in order to become a firefighter.”

The process was a little more than Humphreys had anticipated and found it could take years before actually earning the label firefighter. Undeterred, Humphreys decided to go for it after graduating from KU, working a part-time job at Olive Garden to support herself during her training.

In order to be a firefighter, Humphreys had to get her emergency medical technician (EMT) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certifications and then she had to pass a physical test. After accomplishing those, she was allowed to apply for the academy, which isn’t always taking applicants, especially in the tough economic conditions. In applying, she then had to pass a written test before undergoing two rounds of intensive interviews.

Humphreys succeeded in the interview process and began her three and a half month stint at the academy learning how to fight fires. Upon “graduation” last December, she was lucky to find a job in Tolleson, a small suburb of her hometown. But even though she has a job, she is still in what is called the probation period.

“I am on probation for nine months, which basically means you have to prove yourself and pass evaluations,” said Humphreys. “If you pass everything then you basically stay on for life unless you do something really, really bad.”

“I have to pass written and physical tests and get tested on my medical knowledge. It is just in case your boss is like, ‘We screwed up and don’t like that we hired you.’ You try to make it so they don’t have to make that decision.”

As a firefighter, Humphreys works what is called a 48-96 schedule, working two-straight days and then off for four, but she is always on call.

There are four main positions within a fire department: the firefighters, which can be an EMS or a paramedic, senior firefighters, engineers who drive the truck, and the captain. Humphreys is an EMS, which means she is certified to give basic life support. Surprisingly, of the five to 10 calls her department receives daily, few are actually fire-related.

“Most of the calls we run are medical,” Humphreys said. “Most people don’t realize we are going to be the first people on the scene. We have paramedics on our staff who get there and evaluate the patients and recommend the next step, whether it is calling for an ambulance or having someone drive themselves to the hospital. We also have to go to pronounce people dead at crime scenes or at their homes. So it’s a lot more medical-related than fires.”

During her days at the station, which Humphreys affectionately dubs the man cave as she is the only female on staff, her shifts are fairly routine and follow a similar schedule from day-to-day. In the mornings she checks the truck to make sure it is clean, fully-stocked and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Then the whole crew performs chores in and around the station.

From there, everyone eats lunch together before an afternoon full of workouts, drills and training. After a quick trip to the grocery store, Humphreys and her co-workers prepare dinner and enjoy their evening meal together. It is then time to relax with some down time.

“They (co-workers) get to watch movies; I don’t get to watch movies yet,” said Humphreys. “They get to relax and kind of hang out. I have to read my manual, which I have to get through during my probation period and then get tested on. Then we go to bed and usually run about three to five calls a night so we’re up quite a bit. The next day we get to do it all over again. But it’s a little more relaxed since everyone is tired from not sleeping too much the night before.”

After five months on the job, Humphreys finally had her first fire at the end of April. The crew was getting ready to eat dinner, but dropped everything when they got the call of a fire. Humphreys and her coworkers rushed to get ready and boarded the truck. Firefighters, whose equipment weights about 30-40 pounds, must be able to dress in two minutes.

Humphreys is a member of the ladder crew, which gets on the roof of the burning building and cuts holes in the ceiling to let the smoke escape. However, upon arriving at the scene- a burning, vacant building- Humphreys learned the structure had a tile roof. Tile roofs are off limits to firefighters because the tiles can slip easily and are generally more dangerous to be on.

“When we got there and saw the tile roof, I didn’t think I would get to do anything,” Humphreys remembers. “I just thought I would kind of hang out and do little things. Nope. They told me to grab a hose line and go in!”

“You train for it, but when you’re actually there- ready to go into a burning building- it is a little scary,” said Humphreys. “But it was really fun. Fun in the sense that there was this huge adrenaline rush and I got to see everyone in action and how it really goes. You train so long and so hard to do this stuff and then you actually get to put it to work. It was almost like a weight had lifted.”

In case she needed any reassurance about her chosen career path, Humphreys found it in that first experience fighting fire.

“It makes me feel good to be part of a team and know that I’m helping others,” said Humphreys. “I love going to work and I know it is something I can see myself doing for a long time. It is like playing on a team. We travel together, we eat together and we stay in the same building.”