LaGrange Firefighter becomes eighth woman and 1,126th graduate of Georgia Smoke Diver program

Published 10:00 am Saturday, March 12, 2022

While her firefighter’s uniform still smells vaguely of hay smoke, it’s the heated, suffocating darkness LaGrange Fire Department Sgt. Michette Moon remembers most from her recent participation in the Georgia Smoke Diver program.

However, Moon, at 5-foot-2, 140 pounds, conquered the intense six-day program, which is considered one of, if not the hardest training program firefighters can go through. To date, Moon is the eighth woman to complete the program since its founding in 1978, and the second woman to complete it since 1995.

“It’s crazy,” Moon, an LFD firefighter of eight years, said.

“I just thought ‘I’m doing something a lot of guys couldn’t do. It still hasn’t really sunk in that it was real. I’ve wanted to try this for so long.”

Moon qualified for the GSD program earlier this month and spent six days completing the course alongside 27 other firefighters across the state, including a male counterpart from the LFD. She said he did not complete the program. She was only one of 12 to complete the program this session. Through her success, Moon earned the title of Georgia Smoke Diver #1126.

David Rhodes, a GSD board elder and Smoke Diver #339, has been a part of the organization since 1986 and has seen everyone one of the program’s eight women pass and graduate from the program. 

He noted many of the women ended up coming back to GSD to become instructors, and he hopes Moon will consider doing so as well one day.

He said Moon was always smiling and humble throughout the course and that she was very determined.

“She’s tiny, but she’s solid,” he said.

The GSD takes place twice a year.  The one Moon attended took place in Dalton. The association allows Smoke Diver instructors a philanthropic platform to improve rescue efforts and problem-solving skills in dangerous fire-related situations.  Rhodes said the course instructors set a hay fire in a structure where firefighters have to navigate their way out of it, all the while wearing full uniform and carrying equipment or even another firefighter. Some drills are with a partner while some are solo. On top of that, the drills are in complete darkness.

“I’ve been in tons of training and been in situations where I couldn’t see, but I’ve never been in that thick of smoke,” Moon said.

Moon said she’d gotten into shape during the past year, mindfully training her physical form with daily runs and bodybuilding.  She said she ultimately trained for it to be the hardest thing she’d ever been through.

Within the first few days of the drills, she realized her mental stamina should have been just as trained.

“It’s not just physical, it’s mentally hard,” Moon said. “There’s so much fatigue. I had a few drills that I had to come back and redo. I had my back against the wall a few times. After six days, each day gets harder because you’re more and more tired. When you’re really beat up, you really have to dig deep.”

Rhodes said the drills were designed specifically to test participants’ mental stamina.

Participants are often put in claustrophobic scenarios that were meant to test one’s self-control. Some drills are based on real-world cases.

“We put them in situations where they are pinned down and cannot move. We have the radio traffic playing at the same time. They’re having to learn to focus on conserving their air until someone can come get them,“ he said. “We try to keep it safe, but we also try to be realistic and put them in situations they normally wouldn’t be in.

A week following her graduation, Moon’s uniform still has traces of the smoke embedded deep in the fibers.

Her mental fatigue remains as she works through her regular duties at LFD Station 5.

However, the feeling of accomplishment has yet to fade.

“I knew if I didn’t go try, I’d live to regret it,” she said, adding that she’s never had to go into a burning building to save a fellow fighter in her career. “I really like to challenge myself. I wanted to see if I could do it, if I was capable.”

What else hasn’t faded is the ongoing support Moon has received not only from her fellow firefighters but also from total strangers from all over the country.

Moon said she was well aware her partner and her three daughters were watching her progress from home. She didn’t know other women were watching as well.

“A bunch of people were following me [on Facebook] throughout the week because there were all kinds of videos going up,” Moon said. “There were tons of women following me, and I had tons of people coming up to me or messaging me.”

Moon said she’s only one of two female firefighters at LFD’s station 5.

However, she said she feels respected in the male-dominated field, and certainly very capable. She hopes her experience can empower her other female co-firefighters to challenge themselves and to persuade any woman to follow their passions.

“I want to show [my three little girls] that if you put your mind to something, you can do anything,” Moon said. “I think that is a parenting tool that we’re going to use for a long time.”