Became a Firefighter at...66
At age 5, Andrea Peterson was rescued from a fire in her family's Los Angeles home. "I thought it was a great adventure," she recalls. "I told the big firefighters that I wanted to be a fireman, too, and they laughed and said that little girls could not do that." Still, when a car crashed on her front lawn several years later and burst into flames, Peterson trained the garden hose on the blaze. "The instinct was there, so I just did it!" she says.
Pressured by her parents to choose a more "gender appropriate" career, Peterson became a flight attendant. It wasn't until 2008, after her husband passed away, that she finally started volunteering at a local fire station. At 107 pounds, she spent a year lifting weights and watching her diet before being approved for fire academy coursework. And when she began training in 2010 alongside men in their teens and 20s, she was ready. "At one point the department's fitness officer asked me to pull him through the station in full gear and equipment—he weighed about 300 pounds," she says. "I did as he requested, which perhaps surprised both of us!" In May 2011 she graduated, becoming the only woman on the department's staff of 27 firefighters.
Peterson has now responded to more than 350 emergency calls, helping cardiac arrest patients, homeowners beating back a fire in frigid temperatures, and more. "The high point is the relief on people's faces when we arrive," she says. "I've always known that this was the job for me. It doesn't matter how hard I had to work or how long I had to wait." —Roxanna Font