“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!”
— Maya Angelou
Because of the pandemic, people’s appreciation for folks who often go unnoticed has grown immensely. Teachers, sanitation workers, health care professionals, store clerks and others bravely work to help keep some sense of normalcy.
This week’s portrait can be thanked at least three times for the work she does daily. Amanda Hoade is a teacher, firefighter and EMT who took a few moments while walking her dogs to talk with us.
You are a firefighter and chief engineer for the Upper Gwynedd Township Fire Department. What does a chief engineer do?
I’m in charge of the trucks’ maintenance and for training people on how to take care of it. So basically, anytime something breaks they come straight to me. I have people and mechanics underneath me who I can delegate to, to make sure it’s taken care of properly. I make sure we do regular maintenance, like oil changes and checkups, and I also teach people how to drive the truck, pump and stuff like that.
What inspired you to become a firefighter?
It was my dad. I grew up living just a block away from the firehouse. My dad was a volunteer member at the time, and then he became chief engineer just prior to my joining. And that’s what I always wanted to do; I wanted to be like my dad. I bought my house specifically to be near the firehouse. I’m only 2.5 miles away!
Nice. Tell me about the family.
For an Italian family, we were pretty small. It’s just me, my older brother and my parents. I grew up in the middle of Montgomery County, and most of my extended family is from around here. My dad was a volunteer firefighter and EMT, and he was in the Navy as well. My mom was a hairdresser for a while and then stayed at home to raise us. She later worked in Montgomery County as a school outreach coordinator.
What were you like as a kid?
I was very much a typical tomboy. I always wanted to hang out with my brother. We had horses growing up so that was my sport. I grew up in the 4-H community doing agricultural type things and competing in horse shows. I loved caring for animals.
That’s amazing. I rode also. I enjoyed jumping fences; it made me feel like I could fly. What was your specialty?
Showmanship. I have a really high attention to detail. My pony was — how do I put this nicely? She was not the easiest pony in the world. One of the best things for building a relationship with horses is working with them — grooming from the ground up. I actually qualified in the top 25 in the state for showmanship.
Congrats! I guess that attention to detail serves you well in your current work. What does firefighter training entail? My only reference is from movies with firefighters running into fake buildings.
There’s a national standard as far as training goes. And the fake building model is accurate; they’re called burn buildings. They’re usually made completely from concrete because we don’t want them actually to burn down when you’re inside. We have trained instructors who set the fires to certain degrees; they’re called stokers, and they facilitate the trainings to make sure we follow safe practices.
What was the hardest part of training for you?
Honestly, the hardest part was, and still is for me, throwing ladders. I’m only 5’2″ so there’s a mechanical disadvantage for me to get a ladder up in the air from my height.
Are you one of the ones out there actively fighting fires?
Yes, I started as a junior firefighter when I was 14. As a junior, you’re not allowed to go inside the buildings or run power tools like chainsaws, but you can do almost everything else. That’s how you really hook kids into the excitement of firefighting. You learn how empowering it is and what a family it becomes. I was a special education teacher for five years and just did a career change to become a full-time firefighter, part-time EMT.
What’s the most precarious situation you’ve been in?
I can’t get into details, but I’ll just say that it’s difficult when you have to deal with someone suffering from a mental illness. Situational awareness is very important in those circumstances. We need to pay more attention to mental health in this country and how to deal with it in all sorts of areas.
Tell me about your work as a teacher?
I was a special education and health and physical education teacher for five years at the Woodlynde school.
What was rewarding about teaching?
Helping the kids meet their goals. Seeing the kids have a breakthrough, no matter how small, was rewarding or finding something new that they actually enjoyed, was also important.
What were you doing before teaching?
I was in college. It took me six years to get my bachelor’s degree. I changed majors once and schools twice. I started out at Arcadia University doing pre-physical therapy, but Arcadia was not the place for me, even though that’s the place where I came out. I then transferred to Montgomery County Community College, got my grades back up and then went to West Chester University, where I got two bachelor’s degrees in kinesiology and professional studies. [Laughing] I had a lot of credits!
Were you into sports as a kid?
Not really. I wasn’t a jock in school or anything like that. I didn’t really do organized team sports. Horses were my sport and volunteering at the firehouse, which was also very physical. It was the adaptive work that drew me to kinesiology, and West Chester’s adaptive physical education program was phenomenal. I was drawn to working with the special needs kids, and I liked the health aspect of it as well.
When did you come out?
When I was in high school, I thought I might be bisexual but suppressed it. I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it. When I went to Arcadia, I found a lot of girls hitting on me and decided that I wasn’t mad at it at all. I was like, ‘Well, that’s kind of nice…” and that’s how I figured it out.
Any early signs, looking back?
Not really other than the fact that I dressed a little more tomboyish than most of my friends. I remember an awards banquet that I went to, and I convinced my mother to let me wear a tie. When I look at that picture, I think, “Hmm, I should have known then.”
How did the family take it when you came out?
It wasn’t terrible. As a vulnerable teenager, I was hoping it went a little differently. I wanted automatic enthusiasm, but looking back, they were very accepting and loving even if they didn’t break out the balloons.
I saw your cover photo on Facebook with boots and a helmet. What’s the story behind that?
Oh, that’s the one with the firefighter’s boots and helmet alongside a hockey mask and skates. It represents me and my fiancé Becks, Fire and Ice. She’s been playing ice hockey since she was 5 years old. The story is that as a child, the first time she got on the ice, they had to pull her off because she didn’t want the session to end.
Cool. What does she do off the ice?
She is a patient consultant at a medical marijuana dispensary.
How did you meet and what was it that caught your attention?
We met through Plenty of Fish, and I enjoyed the fact that she was so laid back.
How are you dealing with the pandemic?
I’m working more than normal, and Beck is still going in, so for us, it’s not a big change. We’re lucky that we’re still getting a paycheck. At work, our protocols are crazy and ever-changing. We’re constantly making adjustments as we learn more about the virus. The amount of PPE that we’re wearing is expanded, and we have to clean the truck every time it comes back thoroughly. It’s frustrating because it makes training hard. We’re an all-volunteer staff, and last Sunday would have been a beautiful day to go out and pump train, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, we weren’t able to.
What are your thoughts being on the front lines of the pandemic?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and people are starting to make it political, but the bottom line is that people are dying. It’s real. We see it and deal with it, but there are things we can do to help curb the spread.
Outside of washing your hands and the suggestions and warnings we see every day, any tips?
Don’t wear a mask if you’re in your car alone. There’s no reason for it, and it can be harmful. I have a friend who was just hit by someone who got dizzy from driving with the windows closed and the mask on.
Do you have any pets?
Yes, in stereotypical style, I have two Dalmatians.
Would you rather travel to the future or go back in time?
I wasn’t a great student in history class, so I think I’d like to go back in time and learn about a lot of the stuff I missed.
Something unique about the family…
I am the only blood relative in our immediate family with a college degree.
What’s the best award you’ve received?
In 2015, my department voted me Firefighter of the Year.
What was the first LGBT film you ever watched?
I think it was “Loving Annabelle.”
Firefighters and front liners are our heroes. Who are your heroes?
My mom is a breast cancer survivor; my fiancée is an ovarian cancer survivor. The attitudes they both took with everything they went through was heroic.
So when’s the wedding?
Well, we were supposed to get married on July 11, but we took the date and reversed it, so we’re now hoping for 11/7.
I’ll cross my fingers for you!