Safe and Sound
Once a singer, Amy Burton now takes center stage as Pender fire marshal
When AMY BURTON was in second grade, a fire truck visited her school in Kinston, North Carolina. She was chosen to wear the chief’s helmet that day. As a teen she was a volunteer firefighter. “It’s almost full circle,” she says of her new role as Pender County fire marshal. Burton is the first woman to fill the role in the county and currently the only female in the Fire Marshal’s Office. She is responsible for oversight of all fire department operations within Pender County as well as new construction plan review, code enforcement, and fire investigations as mandated by state law. Burton also serves as the liaison between the county and various fire departments in Pender County.
“This role is exciting,” she says. “The growth in Pender County is off the charts. I get to work with contractors, community leaders and community members. No two days are alike.” Burton says being a female has brought a different perspective to the role. “Building trust as an outsider and as a female in the male-dominated fire service field is challenging,” she says.
Burton originally set her sights on a degree in athletic training at Chowan College, now Chowan University, in Murfreesboro, North Carolina. After being offered a $1,000 scholarship just for auditioning for the chorus and subsequently being offered a full ride as a vocal performance major, she pivoted. Singing opened up many avenues for Burton. “I loved vocal performance,” she says, recalling performances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York City and off-Broadway in North Carolina.
In 2003, Burton unexpectedly lost her father who shared her love of music. It was the impetus for her to take an EMT course. “I don’t like not knowing what to do,” she says. Burton became a volunteer EMT at Wyse Fork Fire and Rescue in Dover, North Carolina and progressed to a paid role with Jones County Emergency Medical Services (EMS.) Burton continued onto EMT-to-paramedic training at Lenoir Community College in Kinston and completed EMS training at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro, North Carolina before joining Wayne County EMS as a full-time paramedic.
Burton says she has adapted what she learned about practice and repetition from vocal performance to her role as a firefighter. “I am five foot two on a good day. I adapted my technique and figured out what worked for me, riding the fire truck holding a two inch hose in my small hands in a totally different way than a man,” she says. “It’s all muscle memory. It’s about being flexible and adaptable, whether singing in Mandarin or Italian or handling a fire.”
In 2016, Burton moved to Wilmington to be closer to the beach and friends, taking a job as a hemodialysis technician. But she missed public safety. At the encouragement of the Leland Volunteer Fire and EMS assistant fire chief, she applied for a part-time paramedic position. She attended state certification classes and eventually advanced to a firefighter medic. When the Leland brigade transitioned from a private organization to the Town of Leland Fire and Rescue, Burton was promoted to battalion chief of EMS, responsible for scheduling and oversight of all EMS operations.
“The team at Leland was some of the best I have ever worked with. I was the only female in a chief’s role. I was continuously supported and encouraged by the other three male battalion chiefs,” she recalls.
Now in her role with Pender County, which was effective at the end of May, she has outlined some progressive goals. She plans to streamline the new construction and permit process and build a Fire Marshal’s Office that is on the forefront of service delivery, code enforcement, and investigations while taking advantage of technology and moving information online. “I am not a reactive person. I want to be on the forefront, on top of everything, not playing catchup,” she says. “I won’t sit still. I am constantly moving.”
And music? “It’s a hobby now,” she says. You just might find her singing for a wedding in town.
To view more of photographer Daria Amato’s work, go to dariaphoto.com.
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