Katie Cline, Firefighter/Paramedic

Katie Cline, Firefighter/Paramedic
Posted on 03/31/2022
Tones are going off in the station. She’s got 90 seconds to get on the fire truck. It doesn’t matter what she’s doing — eating, training, working out, taking a shower — it’s just part of the puzzle. Something Lenexa Firefighter/Paramedic Katie Cline knows all about.

“You learn to be speedy,” she said. “You learn different ways to cut time.”

A puzzle master at heart, Katie approaches emergencies the same way she tackles 1,000-piece puzzles — through strategy and perseverance. At work, that means routinely inspecting the fire truck at the start of her 24-hour shift.

“When someone calls 911, they expect us to be prepared,” she said. “I feel very strongly about making sure we have everything, especially when it comes to medical supplies.”

Medical calls make up 72 percent of the emergencies that the Lenexa Fire Department responds to.

“A lot of people are confused when it’s a medical call and we show up in a fire truck,” she said. “It doesn’t really resonate with people that we’re cross trained for medical and fire suppression.”

Through the City of Lenexa’s tuition reimbursement program for employees, Katie completed coursework to become a paramedic in 2020. By the end of this year, the fire department is on track to have 50% of their operation staff fully certified as firefighters/paramedics. With her paramedic credentials, Katie is now trained to administer medications like epinephrine during life-threatening medical calls.

Headshot photo of Lenexa Firefighter/Paramedic Katie Cline“Knowing how many medical calls we run, I knew I wanted to be a better asset to the team,” she said. “But I don’t think I would have advanced my learning if I didn’t know it was financially going to be taken care of.”

In the past 365 days, Katie has responded to 484 calls. That’s an average of four calls per shift, working nearly 120 24-hour shifts per calendar year.

“When someone says they want to be a firefighter and they want to fight fires, Johnson County really is not the place to do that,” she said. “With the fire prevention that we have, sprinkler systems, newer construction — we do very little of fighting fires. We are trained and prepared for that, but those are not calls we regularly get.”

Before becoming a Lenexa firefighter, Katie was a health and physical education teacher at a juvenile detention center in Kansas. After seeing her childhood best friend become a firefighter in Johnson County and desiring to move back to her hometown of Lenexa, Katie took an interest in a career change.

“I knew I wanted to be a civil servant of some sort,” she said. “I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and having a job that keeps me physically active.”

Pay close attention to the details

When Katie is dispatched to a scene, she said she thinks about three questions: What am I going to walk in and see? Am I going to be the first one there? What are the things I need to do first?

“Is it something critical?” she said. “Then I need to move in with a purpose. If it’s not life-threatening then I can have a little more time to build patient rapport and make them feel more at ease.”

But staying safe is also key.

“One of the most dangerous parts of our job is being on the highway [responding to] accidents because of distracted drivers,” she said.

When it comes to responding to calls, firefighters must be comfortable with the unknown.

“Nine out of 10 times, firefighters don’t know the outcome once they leave the scene,” she said. “We discuss it on the way back to the station but then we clean our hands and dump the information.”

It’s not that Katie doesn’t care; she just doesn’t want to get emotionally attached for her mental sake.

“One of my first deaths — it was a kid who was similar in age to my younger brother at the time,” she said. “He was driving the same kind of car I drive, same color, so there was a lot of connections that I can emotionally put there. I think that is when I realized that I can't allow myself to do that. Ever since then, I think it makes it easier if you don't try and connect dots to people in your life.”

Special pieces

Katie’s first interaction with a female firefighter was with Lenexa Firefighter/Paramedic Michelle Egler who has been with the City of Lenexa since 2006.

“I definitely look up to her — she’s been in this a long time,” Katie said. "I appreciate everything she’s done because she paved the way for women like me.”

Katie is just one of four female firefighters working for the Lenexa Fire Department. Nationwide, women make up less than ten percent of career firefighters, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

“You can do the same job, you just have to figure out how you’re going to be able to do it,” Katie said. “And the way you do it isn’t going to look the same for every person.”

Take breaking through a door for instance.

“It can be a physically demanding job,” Katie said. “You have to use your brain because we don’t have this brute strength as men. We can do the same job; we just have to think things through a little bit more and be more methodical. There is a method to the madness. You just don’t muscle through it.”

At the end of the day though, it takes team effort.

“You really don’t do anything by yourself in the fire service, you're always with someone else when you're on calls, whether you're going into a fire or going on a medical call, you're pretty much never alone,” Katie said. “It’s always teamwork.”

When it comes to her co-workers, they’re also roommates. They literally spend 24 hours together during a shift. They bunk in the same room. They eat in the same kitchen. They ride together for every call.

“If you think of the people you work with as family, you don’t get to pick them,” Katie said. “Everyone has their quirks. You're closer with some than others, but at the end of the day, we all have each other's back.”

Having a plan

On her days off, Katie keeps her instincts closely intact.

“I always tell people I’m not at work, don’t make me work today,” she said. “Like if I’m hanging out with my nephew and he’s doing something sketchy, I’ll say, ‘Buddy, I’m not at work today, don’t make me work.’ It’s kind of a subtle way of saying that’s not a good idea.”

Katie Cline with her mom, sister-in-law and brother at Lenexa's Jigsaw Puzzle Tournament.Outside of work, Katie enjoys being active outdoors, exploring national parks across the country (her favorite is Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah) and watching documentaries on any subject.

She recently competed in Lenexa's Jigsaw Puzzle Tournament at the Lenexa Public Market alongside her mom, brother and sister-in-law. We’re not sure what puzzle she’ll be working on next, but we do know it has to meet her minimum 1,000-piece criteria and it will probably become a proud home décor wall hanging.
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Published March 31, 2022