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Bardstown Fire no longer an all-male organization

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By Randy Patrick

The Bardstown Fire Department has been a mostly male domain, but that’s about to change in a big way.

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Until recently, there were only men, but Chief Billy Mattingly’s teenage daughter has joined as a volunteer, and there are five other female recruits in training.

“This is the largest single batch we’ve ever had at one time,” said Asst. Chief Chuck Montgomery, who has been with the department for about 30 years.

Melissa Sheene, hired in 2017 to recruit volunteers, was the first full-time, paid career firefighter in the department’s history, but she returned home to Danville in less than a year. And, although the department has had a few women volunteers over the years, there hasn’t been one for at least four years, until now.

Jill Mattingly has been a volunteer for the Nichols Fire Department in Bullitt County since September, and last month she also joined the Bardstown team. She will soon be joined by Jessica Brothers, who intended to join last year but was injured in training and had to recover; Jessica Harris and Tracy Senovitz, who are both part of husband-and-wife teams; and sisters, Hannah and Elizabeth Kaczmarek.

“I’m the youngest, and I’m the senior,” Mattingly said, smiling at the irony of it.

She’s only 18, but it’s in her DNA. Dad’s a career firefighter who started out as a volunteer in Bardstown, and her uncle, Anthony Mattingly, used to be the chief here. She grew up around the firehouse, and all the guys were like uncles to her, she said.

“Nobody could talk me out of it,” she said. “I just want to help people, and I’ve been around it since I was a year or two old.”

“I’m very proud of her,” Chief Mattingly said. “I have two older sons, and I never expected my young daughter to go into the fire service, but that’s what she wants to do. You’ve got to let them make their own choices.”

Jill, who was home-schooled, was a junior firefighter in Okolona and Southeast Bullitt, where she grew up, and received her training there.

“On my 18th birthday, I became a firefighter,” she said.

She hopes to also become an EMT with the Bardstown Fire Department this fall.

The Kaczmarek girls of Cox’s Creek are also young. Elizabeth, 20, just graduated Thomas Nelson High School a couple of weeks ago, and Hannah, 22, is a student at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College and works at a FiveStar store.

Like Jill, they too had a paternal influence. Their stepfather, Bert Ellard, is also a volunteer with the Bardstown Fire Department and was with the New Hope Volunteer Fire Department.

‘When he met our mom, he was a firefighter, and he asked us to come to his department one day,” Hannah said.

They both wanted to join a Hardin County department, but their mom thought it was too dangerous. But she relented.

“I think it’s going to be fun,” Elizabeth said. And, she said, she wants to “help people.”

That altruistic instinct seems to be a motivator for all of the women.

“I’ve always been interested in doing something hands-on where I can help my community, and this just seems like something I would enjoy,” said Brothers.

The 34-year-old registered behavioral technician who works with autistic children, also feels she has something to prove.

She also used to work for Michel Tires, where she was the only woman on the team.

Brothers said she’s “so tiny, people try to pigeonhole me,” but she wants to show them she can do this.

She tried to become a volunteer last year, but she tore a calf muscle during training and had to wear “a boot” for two and a half months. But she’s back for another try.

“I didn’t want anybody to think, ‘She just made that up to get out of it,’” she joked.

Tracy Senovitz, 45, is an automotive insurance claims adjustor, who isn’t looking at being a volunteer firefighter as a stepping stone to a career, but doesn’t rule it out.

For years, she’s wanted to do something like being a firefighter. She considered the military, but was at that time a divorced mom with two young kids, so couldn’t go that route, and she didn’t want to be a police officer. But last year, she and her husband, Tim Senovitz, started talking about becoming firefighters.

“I told him, ‘If you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to, but this is something I want to try,’” she said.

So did Tim, a military veteran who also has another full-time job.

The plan, he said, is to arrange it so that they work the same shift together.

The other wife-and-husband team, Jessica and Jason Harris, didn’t want to be interviewed or photographed for this article.

Billy Mattingly is happy to have so many women coming aboard at one time.

“I’m proud of every one of them,” the chief said. “I really respect and admire them for being patient and showing up and going through what they have to do to get ready to ride the truck.”

He said the women have a few more hours of instruction before he can “cut them loose and they’ll be able to start making runs with us.”

They won’t finish all of their training until the end of the year, but they will soon be able to respond with the other firefighters, he said.