Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch and Sen. Nicole Boyd visited the Lafayette County Fire Department Thursday to meet, thank and congratulate two women who made history within the fire department recently by being the first all-female after-hours crew on duty.
The fire department is a combination department, with some paid firefighters who work Monday through Friday along with volunteers who respond to calls when they can. After regular hours, firefighters and EMTs can volunteer to be at the Central Fire Station overnight to make sure there is always someone on duty at the station.
On Nov. 20, Alexandra Watlington, 19, and Elizabeth Byars, 39, coincidentally both signed up to work the after-hours duty. The department posted a photo of the two women on its social media pages and it caught the eye of Fitch, Sen. Nicole Boyd and hundreds of other people.
“We are so proud of you all,” Boyd told the women Thursday at the Central Fire Station. “I was delighted, not surprised, but delighted to see you all [on social media]. I am so glad you shared it with all of us.”
Watlington is a student at the University of Mississippi where she is studying to be a medical helicopter nurse. She is a certified firefighter and EMT.
Byars is a mother of two girls, and works as head of IT at Regents School of Oxford. She is an EMR and plans to take the firefighter certification class in the spring.
Fitch, who is the first female AG in Mississippi, said she saw the photo on social media and was proud of the two women.
“I’m always particularly excited when I see women who have stepped up, just like you all, to be first-responders,” she said. “I read that and was like, ‘Wow, what a great moment.’”
Fitch said she is grateful for all first-responders in Mississippi.
“You all are running into harm when everybody else is running in the other direction,” she told the women. “I know it’s hard. But anyone that is in this type of profession has such a compassionate heart to help others and we are very grateful and blessed.”
Lafayette County Fire Coordinator Wes Anderson said there are several women, paid and volunteers, who are firefighters within the department; however, only Byars and Watlington have signed up for the after-hours duty.
“Alex is a college student and Liz is a working mother,” he said. “It shows there is a place for everyone here.”