If you were to look up the word “dedication” in the Merrriam-Webster dictionary, you’d find the definition to be “self-sacrificing devotion and loyalty.” That description fits Betty Bennett to a T.

Betty, who stands less than five feet tall, was the first female firefighter in Paulding County. She began her training in the fall of 1974, when her husband Everett started taking the course. “I knew I’d be helping him study, so I figured I might as well take the training, too,” she says. “We heard there was a need for daytime help, so I decided to volunteer. Everett was a truck driver and was gone during the day, and we only had one child at the time, so I figured I could answer fire calls in the daytime. We started out with 40 potential firefighters in our class, but not everyone completed it. Those of us who finished the course graduated in 1975. We took our training at the Fox Club in Junction. Bob Ort and Jim Miller from the Defiance fire department were our instructors.”

Norm Rulman, the Paulding County Fire Chief at that time, attended the graduation ceremony. “He told me I was the first woman in the county to become a firefighter,” Betty says. “I didn’t even know that before he told me. I hadn’t really thought about it. The county needed help and I was available, so I just wanted to help.” She retired after 42 years as an Auglaize Twp. Fire Department volunteer, fighting fires and answering calls to accident scenes and water rescues.

“Three of our kids were born after I became a firefighter,” Betty says with a grin. “There are 18 years between our oldest child and the youngest. When I had a fire call, I’d just put the babies in my truck and go. I drove a big blue Ford pick-up with a light bar on top. Everybody in the county recognized me by that truck. I remember one time we responded to a house fire in Arthur. When I got there, I just grabbed a bystander out of the crowd and asked her to watch my kids in the truck. Back then you could trust people. I wouldn’t do that today, that’s for sure!”

Betty says they were taught many things in the firefighter class, among them respect of other people’s property. “The instructors advised us to always treat the property of fire victims as if it was our own,” she recalls. “We had one fire at the home of a man who refinished antique furniture. Every time we turned around he was trying to sneak back into the house to try and save another piece. I finally just picked a guy out of the crowd and asked him to watch the man and not let him get back in. When the sherif’f”s deputies arrived, they took over the duties. I understood him not wanting to lose his furniture, but we also had a job to do and it wasn’t baby-sitting him!”

The firefighter training also included water rescue and body recovery. “That’s the worst part of the job,” Betty says. “We had to pull the body of a 30-year-old from the river. I’d known that kid all my life and watched him grow up. Another call involved two jet skis that had collided on the river. And we were involved in retrieving the body of a man who’d floated down to Paulding County from Fort Wayne. But the worst call I ever went on was to a motorcycle accident. When I got there, I realized it was my own adult son. I’d tried to get him to drive his truck that morning, but he said it was such a nice day he’d rather ride his bike. He was Life-Flighted from the scene with a broken leg. Two days later, the hospital called us and asked if they could do a CT scan on his head for a possible brain injury. They hadn’t even noticed that when he was first evaluated. He’s okay now but still has some arthritis and other residual effects from the wreck.”

She says one of the most humorous calls she was on was when a young man wrecked his mini bike. “It was right up the road from our house,” she says. “I went directly to the scene. He was lying on the ground and trying to get up. I kept telling him he couldn’t get up until the rescue squad arrived. Finally, I threatened to sit on him if he didn’t listen to me. After that, he just laid there quietly ‘til the squad got there. I guess my motherly instincts kicked in and I treated him like I would have treated one of my own. He wasn’t hurt very bad and made a full recovery. When we go to the scene of a fire or an accident, our training just takes over and we do what we’ve been taught to do. We don’t think about it, we just go into firefighter mode and do it.”

During her career as a volunteer firefighter, Betty also helped with Fire Prevention Week at the local schools. “I was trying to get kids interested in being firefighters,” she says. “As I showed them the turnout gear and how heavy it was, I always told them not to let their size get in the way of what they wanted to do. And I told the girls to go out and do anything they wanted, even if it was not normally a woman’s profession. I hope at least some of them listened to me.” Nowadays, Betty is still on the fire department’s auxiliary and still attends the funerals of fallen firefighters in her dress uniform. Her husband, Everett, at the age of 74, is the captain of the Auglaize Township volunteer firefighters.