‘Mind over matter’ Shann Cliburn is Winter Garden's first female fire lieutenant

Shann Cliburn, of the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department, earned a promotion to become the first female fire lieutenant in the city’s history.

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  • | 12:11 p.m. July 17, 2019
An Orlando native, Cliburn has been with the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department  for 17 years.
An Orlando native, Cliburn has been with the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department for 17 years.
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Shann Cliburn wasn’t always so sure of what she wanted to do. 

An Orlando native, Cliburn worked as a lifeguard at Wet ’n Wild back in high school. As it turned out, she loved learning basic first aid, which led her to EMT school. 

But even then, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to pursue as a career. She considered marine biology and psychology. At one point, she even thought about being an accountant. All she knew was that she wanted to help people. 

Then, one day, a fire truck drove by. 

“I thought, ‘Well, how hard could that be?’” Cliburn said. 

Cliburn has been with the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department for 17 years now. She started as a firefighter/EMT at Station 24 — when the city only had two stations — as the only female firefighter at the time. Since then, the department has grown, opening two new stations. Cliburn rose through the ranks of the department, serving in many different roles all the while. 

Over the past two years, Cliburn doubled up on classes until this past May, when she completed both paramedic school and her fire officer courses, all while working her three 24-hour shifts a week. 

Finally, on July 27, Cliburn was promoted to fire lieutenant. She is the first woman to hold the position in the history of the department. 

“I (didn’t have) this as my goal,” Cliburn said. “I just wanted to become a lieutenant. If I was the first female or not, that didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to be able to be a lieutenant for the Winter Garden Fire Department and, honestly, it’s an extra special … perk, I guess you would say.”

She oversees A shift at Station 23, which she works with three other firefighters. Cliburn said the most rewarding part of her job is when she’s helping people. 

“It gets kind of strange — running into burning houses while people are running out of them — but I wanted to help,” Cliburn said. “I wanted to be an answer.”

The promotion has certainly brought Cliburn out of her shell. She considers herself a shy, “behind the scenes” person, but said she’s incredibly honored to be the first female fire lieutenant, even though it’s attracted some attention.

“I’d like to say I have big shoes to fill, but there are no shoes to fit the spot,” Cliburn said. “So, I feel like I’m kind of the first person … to be an example of, so I just hope I’m able to fulfill that.”

Also promoted at the same time as Cliburn was Kristi Richardson, who now works as a fire engineer. With both promotions, women are represented in every level of the city’s fire department, from Carollee Burrell as assistant chief to the female firefighters that serve throughout the city. 

Cliburn said she’s proud to work with a department that is open to change. 

“Our chiefs are great chiefs, and they’re open to new ideas, and they are proud to be where they are, which makes us proud to work for them,” Cliburn said. “And it’s an honor to be here with this department. And some people stay, some people go, but — for me — this is the place to be.”

When she’s not working, Cliburn is running, traveling to a new destination or visiting relatives. She said she loves spending time with her family and friends who she considers family. 

To anyone who is thinking about becoming a firefighter or just trying to figure out what they want to do in life, Cliburn offered some advice.

“What’s important is to figure out what you want to do, and stick with it and know that you can do it,” Cliburn said. “And things come up. Your plans may change, and that’s OK. It’s OK to change your plans, but … stick with your end goal. It doesn’t matter who’s there to help you or who’s not there to help you. Just push through, and you can do it.”

She said that even if you don’t think you have what it takes or you’re not where you want to be, you still can succeed. 

“I was just a little person (when I started out,) but I say if I can do it, anybody can do it,” she said. “Mind over matter, right?”

Photo by: Hannah Swayze
Photo by: Hannah Swayze