Texas Fire Chief Sees GCU Doctorate as Key to Future
By Janie Magruder
GCU News Bureau
Paige Day has chipped away at the glass ceiling separating women and men in the fire service for more than 15 years, sharing living spaces, saving lives and advancing through the ranks from rookie firefighter to assistant chief.
Within the next year, the 46-year-old Grand Canyon University alumna intends to walk through any remaining barriers, using her latest degree, a doctor of education in organizational leadership. She plans to graduate in October.
“I’m planning to put my key in that door, unlock it, and my world will open up,” said Day, assistant fire chief of the Missouri City (Texas) Fire & Rescue Services.
Day was among 110 doctoral learners in Phoenix this week to attend their residency, hosted by the College of Doctoral Studies. Calling it “research boot camp,” coordinator Anissa Villegas said all candidates must attend two residencies before beginning their dissertations.
The working title for Day’s dissertation, “The Lived Experience of Women as Career Firefighters in Mentorship,” will draw on her own successes and struggles in both the Golder CQ Ranch Fire District northwest of Tucson and in Missouri City, a Houston suburb of 72,000.
“My dissertation will explore how women in the fire service feel about their assigned mentors and their leadership,” she said.
Her own mentors have encouraged persistence and searching for multiple ways to accomplish any task.
“You learn what you learn in the academy, but the culture, the standards, the way you run a call, where you sit on the truck, what you need to carry, every other thing is learned on the job,” she said. “You need to have those relationships so you can ask questions and glean from their toolbox while creating your own toolbox of knowledge.
“But as a woman in the fire service, there’s that delicate balance of being tough as nails and smart. You catch a lot more flies with honey.”
Day, who grew up in Tucson, returned there in 1995 divorced and needing a career to raise her children, Cody, now 23 and in the Army; Taylor, 21, also in the Army; and Kellie, 17, a high school junior. She chose the fire service and began to train for the academy, despite the discouragingly low number of women firefighters. Nationally, women represent just 2.3 percent of non-volunteer firefighters.
“I figured the best thing for me was to get an education,” she said. “Frankly, a lot of doors open when you have letters behind your name.”
Day needed the flexibility of online courses, and GCU fit the bill. She earned both a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration and a master’s in executive fire service leadership.
In 2010, she also wrote a book, “Fading Scars,” chronicling her family’s introduction to (and survival of) traumatic brain injury after her husband, Mark, who also was a firefighter and paramedic, was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident.
“I figured I could make sense out of something horrible, if I went ahead and pursued my doctorate,” said Day, who plans to write and lecture after retiring from the fire service.
Contact Janie Magruder at 639.8018 or [email protected].