GrindBuilding Her Own Box

Building Her Own Box

By: Rachael Savoie

Firefighters all have unique journeys with many stories to tell from the profession. For Clare Frank, her journey is anything but ordinary and she honors these experiences in her new book, Burnt: A Memoir of Fighting Fire.

Clare began her firefighting career in the 1980s, at the age of 17. She acted as the State of California’s first and only female Chief of Fire Protection and has experience handling fire disasters in various settings. After completing her masters in creative writing, she began writing Burnt: A Memoir of Fighting Fire which details her 30 year journey in the fire service. She offers insight into her childhood which shows her initial desire to work with fire after her brother suggested she try out the profession.

“I did not know when I was growing up that I could be a firefighter because there were only firemen…with [my brother’s] encouragement, that was the first time I really thought times are changing…I went on my first fire and I felt whole…I call it ‘love at first flame,’” Clare recalls.

Clare credits her upbringing as what helped her find her place within the fire department. Finding her sense of self as “the new kid in school”, is something she gives credit to her “nomadic” childhood for.

“My dad was very restless…so moving around a lot sounds like it would be chaotic, but I think it really gave me an advantage in the fire service,” says Clare. “Having the ability to just figure out a way to worm my way in…and be accepted on that team, was a skill that I learned from my childhood. I completely credit that kind of chaos turning into gold for me.”

After Clare retired from the fire service in 2015, she began taking her passion for writing seriously. She initially quit writing about fire altogether, but the California wildfires and another conversation with her brother prompted her to look at her other journal entries. She wrote the manuscript for Burnt in 18 months. 

Burnt not only details Clare’s growth within firefighting, but also her strong connection to fire as its own entity. From lighting her first matchstick at eight years old, to watching the devastation that fire causes at a much larger scale, fire is something that Clare has learned to have respect for. 

“When I started out as a young firefighter, I saw fire as something to be conquered…now looking back on a whole career of it, I see that over-suppression is a problem…we need to learn how to live with fire and cull its benefits,” says Clare. “[Fire] is comfort, its cooking, and it’s all these other elements, so I think I have a much more balanced relationship with it now than I did at the beginning.”  

For Clare, she wants to continue with her creative writing and is currently working on her second book. She refers to it as a “mid-quel” and it details her experience at the police academy working with arson police officers. 

One thing that Clare makes mention of is the fact that when she first started in firefighting, less than 2% of firefighters were women. Today, that number has grown to 4%, an underwhelming doubling considering that it has been over 30 years since she first joined the service. Clare doesn’t consider herself a female trailblazer though, but rather reflects on a sense of “imposter syndrome” throughout her career.

“I never felt like I’m clearing the way for other women…now with the benefit of reflection and looking back, I see that at least I’m a role model…hopefully with this book, it will get in more hands. My story of how I did it is accessible to young female adults.” 

Clare hopes her book will inspire others to have a passion for the profession when deciding if they want to pursue firefighting. She recalls the military phrase, “embrace the suck” and acknowledges that firefighting can bring its challenges, but can also be a rewarding career if you love it.

“Follow what’s in your heart. Don’t let the outside world tell you who and what you can be…people want to put you in a box [so] kick the sides out of that box if it doesn’t fit you and build your own box.” 

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