When Mystee Dale set out on her new career path, she had one goal in mind: to become a first responder, in whichever particular field that may have been in.
After doing her research on the physical aspect and challenges of the job, she decided to become a firefighter - as it turns out, the first female firefighter in the history of the Hattiesburg Fire Department. Dale - along with her academy colleagues Josue Gutierrez, Rishav Poudel, Dylan Anglin, Chance Woodard, Steven Boglin and Zadrenod Rhodes - was sworn in by Mayor Toby Barker during a July 16 graduation ceremony.
“It feels amazing,” Dale said. “To even be done with the academy, I feel really accomplished.
“I worked really hard for it, and to be where I’m at now, it feels amazing. You just learn so much (about) how to help the community, and that’s what pushed me to do this.”
Originally from Laurel, Dale graduated from Choctaw Central High School. She spent time in South Dakota and Heildelberg before receiving an associate’s degree from East Central Community College in Decatur.
She spent a year at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, and finished out her senior year at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Alabama.
Before joining the Hattiesburg Fire Department, Dale worked as a gaming inspector for Pearl River Resort in Philadelphia.
“(I would tell other women who want to become firefighters) don’t be afraid to do it,” Dale said. “Get out of your comfort zone.
“There might be people out there who think females shouldn’t be doing this type of career, but I feel like we’re capable of doing it, and it’s all about mind over matter. Just try it out; that’s not hard.”
Among the many things Dale would like to get out of her new job, a bigger family and a sense of urgency are at the top of the list.
“A job like this, everything just happens so quickly, so you need that sense of urgency,” she said. “I need to be able to do my job in a timely manner, and help the community.”
Dale recently got the chance to do just that, when she battled her first fire.
“I’ve been online for two months now, and I finally got to do that,” she said. “That’s what I was really looking forward to.
“I was nervous about it, but I had a great group of guys helping me, so I think I was prepared for it. But that’s it - I was ready to fight fires, and I got that chance."
Thankfully, Dale feels the 12-week-long academy prepared her for that challenge - and all the ones that lie ahead.
“They did their best to put us through situations that will help us with everything we have to deal with here,” she said. “So it was a lot of help; they really prepared us.”
Barker said the Hattiesburg Fire Department Class of 2021 will stand out as one of the most talented, hardest-working, unified and diverse classes in the department’s history. And while the class is all about the seven recruits, he also noted the weight of the occasion of welcoming the city’s first female firefighter.
“Firefighter Dale is the first woman to graduate and wear the uniform of a Hattiesburg firefighter, but she certainly won’t be the last,” Barker said. “As a father of a daughter, I thank her for her perseverance. What she accomplished will echo through time and affect little girls in our city for generations to come.
“She, along with firefighters Gutierrez, Poudel, Anglin, Woodard, Boglin and Rhodes … are passing the torch to a new generation of firefighters. As our department grows and reaches new heights, the legacy of that department now falls to them."