There wasn’t a real connection between high school theatre and the apartment fire until I reached the command class,” said Jessica Eiswald, TCC graduate and fire inspector for the City of Burleson, TX Fire Department. The apartment fire she referenced had destroyed her then-boyfriend’s home while she was a student at TCC.
While a student at Azle High School, Eiswald was devoted to theatre and served as the drama department’s stage manager. Along the way, she got a “wild hair” to become a fire investigator and found her way to TCC’s Associate of Applied Science in Fire Investigation. “The Incident Command Systems class was basically just like being a stage manager in theatre, which I was already good at,” she recalled.
Eiswald actually has received three degrees from TCC: the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Fire Investigation, the AAS in Fire Technology and an Associate of Arts. Eiswald also earned the basic police certification from TCC Police Academy and a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Tarleton State University. In a short amount of time, this 27-year-old, soon-to-be mom already has racked up the achievements in a profession dominated by men. It is obvious she has let little stand in her way.
After graduating from TCC’s Fire Investigation program, Eiswald began her career as a volunteer—and the only female—with the Hood County Fire Department. Volunteering also led to her first industry job as fire investigator with the Hood County Fire Department, still as the only female. “I guess when you’re 20, you don’t really notice that you’re the only female. It was just exciting to know that my knowledge was wanted in Hood County,” she said.
“She’s a great success story. I think the world of her and everyone who works with Jessica loves working with her,” said former Hood County Fire Marshal Brian Fine. He currently serves as a lieutenant with the State Fire Marshal’s office.
Fine began working co-deputy fire marshal with Eiswald in the Hood County Fire Marshal’s office in October of 2008. “I was able to count on her assistance as needed during any type of investigation,” said Fine. Hood County was where Eiswald did much of her growing as a fire inspector.
As Eiswald finished her certification as a police officer through TCC’s Police Academy, Fine took the reins as Hood County’s Fire Marshal. Fine realized he could immediately make Eiswald a better fire inspector by getting her out in the field to get the police training the county Sherriff’s Department could offer. “During her field training phase, I received reports from multiple officers that Jessica was performing her duties above the standards. Once Jessica returned to our office she continued to accept new and challenges and duties,” said Fine.
Now with the Burleson Fire Department, Eiswald is the only female. She doesn’t view that as an issue.
“I’ve always been the only female; through all my fire investigation and technology classes, at Hood County and even in Burleson, I’m the only female."
“I grew up with a bunch of brothers, so I work well with men and it doesn’t affect me,” she said. “I enjoy working with guys. I think we’re very driven in what we do and there’s not a lot of side nonsense.” She did emphasize that being the only female on the job, and only 4’9” tall, “You definitely have to prove yourself by going out there and digging into the work. When you’re digging into a fire, you do have to have some ‘oomph’ behind you.”
Eiswald’s job requires her to enter burned-out buildings and dig through the remains to determine the cause of the blaze. She remembers standing with her partner in a garage, trying to determine how it caught fire. She concluded that the building had a pitched roof, which contributed to the behavior of the fire. Because the roof was non-existent, her partner wondered how Eiswald reached that conclusion. Her answer was simple—the ghosting on the walls. “It was one of those moments in your life when you are doing exactly and you are exactly what you want to be. I knew what I was talking about,” she said confidently. “I really do love digging through fires.”