Nampa’s first female firefighter makes history again when promoted to captain

November 12, 2018 GMT

NAMPA — When Ann Lempesis joined the Nampa Fire Department in 2003, she became Nampa’s first female firefighter and jokingly earned the name “princess.”

Fifteen years later, she will be going by captain — Nampa’s first female fire captain — but she doesn’t want to be known for that, she said.

“I don’t look at it as a gender thing,” she said.

To get to where she is today, she had to do what every other firefighter had to do. Seven other Nampa firefighters were promoted during a ceremony in October, four of whom, including Lempesis, were promoted to captain. As captain, Lempesis will be responsible for her crew inside and outside of the fire station, managing the scene and making sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

After making friends with volunteer firefighters while attending Eastern Washington University in the 1990s, Lempesis knew she wanted to be one. The easygoing nature of the firefighters impressed her, and she didn’t want a desk job. Getting to do something new every day and feeling fulfillment helping others also drew her in.

Lempesis became an emergency medical technician and then attended paramedic school. She spent five years as an Ada County paramedic before joining the Nampa Fire Department in October 2003. She estimated she took upwards of 30 written tests before landing the job at the department.

Though some members of her crew jokingly called her “princess” when she joined, she feels grateful for the crew she started her firefighting career with.

“There wasn’t that stress or that bias that I was a woman,” she said. “It was just, can you do the job?”

The way she does the job looks different sometimes. She’s had to learn how to carry a ladder or hold a chainsaw differently, but she can do the job just the same.

Lempesis has struck the perfect balance between “I have to prove myself as a firefighter because I’m a girl versus I have to prove myself because I’m a firefighter,” Keith Elkins, Nampa Fire captain, said.

Elkins was Lempesis’ first captain when she came to Nampa. She was also Elkins’ first firefighter to join his crew after he became captain. He thought everyone was irrationally afraid at the time for a woman to step into the position. Over the last 15 years, he has seen Lempesis succeed because of “her knowledge, skills and ability,” he said. Lempesis considers Elkins a mentor.

Ninety-five percent of firefighters in the nation are men, according to Census Bureau statistics cited by Data USA.

Only two women are firefighters at the Nampa department now. Sarah Defur, who has become close friends with Lempesis, was also promoted in October to driver operator.

Lempesis knew that joining the department in 2003 was groundbreaking for the organization, Elkins said.

Seeing the lack of diversity in fire services, Elkins, who teaches fire safety to pre-schoolers, would occasionally bring along Lempesis to show children that women can do the job, too.

“We all look the same when we have our turnouts (firefighter gear) on,” Elkins said.

Now, Lempesis said she and Defur sometimes chat with young women considering joining fire services.

“That’s always been something really cool to pass on,” she said.

It wasn’t until 2014 that Lempesis felt she needed to take the next step in her career — moving up to captain — though doing that made her feel uncomfortable. The push to become captain started in 2016 with a two-year application process, including a written exam, an interview, a peer review and a practical portion where firefighters put skills to use.

Through the years, and as her faith has grown in God, Lempesis said being able to serve not only others in the community but the Nampa Fire Department has been a blessing.

“It’s all kind of come full circle,” she said with tears welling in her eyes.

Lempesis will serve her first day as captain on Nov. 26.

She thinks she will be nervous driving to work with that new title and responsibility on her shoulders. As for feeling any added pressure for being the first woman,

“I’m doing the same job as the next captain, and my crew expects me to function and lead them as any other captain has before me,” she said.