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Notre Dame Fire Department welcomes first full-time women firefighters

| Thursday, September 26, 2019

The University announced in a press release Wednesday that the Notre Dame Fire Department (NDFD) recently welcomed its first full-time women firefighters: Christi Shibata and Michelle Woolverton.

Shibata, 37, began her time with the department in July, according to the release. She is a native of Petoskey, Michigan, where she worked as a physical therapist assistant and personal trainer prior to joining the department. Notre Dame Police Department (NDPD) chief Keri Kei Shibata is her sister.

Woolverton, 42, started with the department in August, the release said. She is from South Bend and worked as a supervisor in Building Services at Notre Dame prior to joining NDFD.

Shibata and Woolverton are both certified emergency medical technicians. Their duties will not be different from other firefighters on the force and will include “driving the [fire] engine and operating the engine pump,” the release said. Both women are graduates of Clay Fire Academy.

Bruce Harrison, chief of NDFD, said in the release Shibata and Woolverton earned their opportunities and are both qualified for the job.

“I’m very proud of Notre Dame Fire Department,” Harrison said. “I’m proud of its past, I’m very proud of the present, and I’m very optimistic about the future. It’s a good place. It’s a good service. And I think Christi and Michelle are going to be good representatives of this fire department as we move into the future.”

Other women serve part-time on an on-call basis with NDFD, the release said, but Shibata and Woolverton are the first women to serve with the department full-time.

“It’s been awesome,” Shibata said in the release. “I’m excited about the next steps. There’s so much more to learn and so much more you can do through the fire service other than the basic level training, so I’m excited about those opportunities.”

Women now represent about 11% of the Department’s personnel, according to the release.

“I’m 42 years old. I never thought my dream would come true, and it has,” Woolverton said.

The NDFD is the oldest university fire department in the United States. The Department provides emergency fire and medical services, as well as public education and inspection and maintenance services. According to the NDFD website, they receive approximately 1,500 calls a year from the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross communities.

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