There were times when Ashley Culp said that she felt like giving up. After eight years of applying to countless fire departments with no luck, Culp thought maybe being a firefighter was not in the cards.
Despite those doubts, Culp said she knew she couldn’t give up and her persistence paid off when she received a call from the Ames Fire Department. After completing the 11-month firefighter academy, her wife pinned on her badge at Monday’s Ames Fire Awards Ceremony. On Tuesday, she worked her first shift at Ames Fire Station No. 3.
“I wanted to give up so many times,” Culp said. “It was just like how many times was I going to get turned down? (On Monday) it didn’t even seem real. I spent so long trying to get into this profession, and the day came, and I was just like, ‘Am I dreaming? Is this possible?’”
Culp, 31, is one of three new firefighters at the Ames Fire Department, who received their badges at the ceremony, along with Lindsay Ball and Jerome Ward. And after nearly a year of training, homework and tests, those three reported for their first shifts this week.
Although Culp said she was overwhelmed with the support she received from the department, her family, and the community at the ceremony, she cannot forget the struggles she encountered along the way, and how that small group — which she said became her family — helped her get through.
“We became family. There were a couple of times where I was like, ‘I can’t do this,’ and they were like, ‘You’re going to do this and we’re going to be right here helping you do this,’” Culp said, a graduate of Ballard High School.
Though she was new, she said the rest of the firefighters at Station No. 3 have already made her feel at home.
“They welcomed us like we were their family right away,” Culp said.
Though he has not been interacting with her long, Ames Fire Lt. Dave Folkmann said that he was already impressed with Culp’s ability to ask the right questions and willingness to learn.
“She’s attentive to everything we’re saying or going over, and for the most part what I’ve seen in the short amount of time, she seems to have a good work ethic, where she actually wants to do stuff,” Folkmann said. “She’s a self-starter.”
The Huxley native said that she had always wanted to go into public service. After originally signing up for the Marine Corps after high school, she thought about becoming a police officer and enrolled in the criminal justice program at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). From there she spent eight years applying to different police departments, and occasionally fire departments, all while working in retail.
But as she got further down that path, she said she realized that law enforcement was perhaps not the right career choice for her, and she shifted to applying to more fire departments. But still, she said that she could not find anyone to give her that chance. And after taking a year off from applying to continue to work retail, Culp said she realized that the retail world was not for her, and knew she had to keep grinding away at her dream if she wanted her life to change.
“There were a couple of times in there where I was just like, you know what? Screw it. I’ll work at Target or something for the rest of my life,” Culp said. “It was a really good job, and the people were great; it’s just that retail was not for me. So I realized that I couldn’t do it for the rest of my life.”
Culp said she applied for a position with the Des Moines Fire Department, and got turned down again. Then about a year later, she applied for a position with the Ames Fire Department, and quickly found that it was the perfect fit.
“The people for the city of Ames, oh my gosh, they’re amazing,” Culp said. “They welcomed me with open arms and they were willing to help with anything, like they want you to succeed.”
Culp said she is excited to serve the community, something she has been waiting a long time to do.
“You’ve only got one life, and I was not going to give up until I got what I wanted, or until I knew where I was supposed to be,” Culp said. “I’m a very determined person, and I knew I had to get this to feel whole.”