Jen Stuhlman serves as IAFF Local 2665 political director, rep for IAFF District 2
By SHERI GASSAWAY
Growing up in a strong union family, Jen Stulman took a special interest in the Labor community. As a child, she even attended North County Labor Club meetings with her dad, a third-generation pipefitter.
That interest continued to grow over the years and has led to her career today. Stuhlman is the political director for the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2665 and a Missouri field service representative for IAFF District 2, which serves Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska.
Stuhlman got her start at Local 2665 when she was 21 as a fire fighter/paramedic at the University City Fire Department. She eventually served as shop steward for the department – a role she continues in today, even though she no longer works there.
“When I got hired, I immediately became active in my union and pushed my way into everything I could to be a part of it,” she said. “To me, being part of the union means that on any given day, I have 300,000 brothers and sisters that truly have my back, and there’s no better feeling in the world.”
MOST GRATIFYING MOMENT ON THE JOB
Stuhlman worked for the U. City Fire Department for 15 years. She left the department earlier this year to concentrate more on her duties as political director for Local 2665, a position she’s held since 2008, and as a field rep for IAFF District 2, a responsibility she took over in 2011.
In all her years on the job, she said her most gratifying moment surprisingly enough didn’t occur on one of the thousands of calls she been on during her tenure. Rather, it was seeing the community rally around the U. City fire fighters following the 2014 election.
That’s when six fire fighters – including Stuhlman – were suspended for three months without pay for posing for photographs in brochures for city council candidates who were challenging incumbents, even though they were on their own time and not in U. City uniforms, which is clearly allowed under state and local law.
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Hundreds of residents turned out for rallies and attended council meetings speaking out in defense of the fire fighters and against the severe punishment. One resident even started a website to raise $75,000 to pay for the fire fighters’ salaries and legal expenses.
“The community rallied around us and became actively engaged in protecting the fire fighters,” Stuhlman said. “It showed how much they really cared about us.”
When Stuhlman left the department earlier this year, her co-workers threw a “retirement party” and presented her with a framed glass case containing a fire fighters axe and related memorabilia in recognition of her years of dedicated service. They also requested that she continue in her role as their shop steward.
“It (their request) made me cry,” Stuhlman said. “I don’t know if there’s a better testament of trust or confidence.”
Originally, Stuhlman was considering a career in nursing. “At the time, the nurses at St. John’s had just organized so I thought, ‘Great I can be a nurse and be in a union,’” she said.
While in school, she began working as an emergency room technician at Depaul Hospital. She saw the paramedics coming in and said she genuinely “loved watching them work with the patients – it was the action of it all.”
So, she decided to go to paramedic school and afterward began working as a paramedic at Christian Hospital. She then went on to the fire academy, and on her 21st birthday, she was interviewed by the U. City Fire Department. Five months later she got the job.
“It’s an emergency when patients come to ER, but it’s really an emergency when you’re out in field, and they need that help,” Stuhlman said. “It’s not to say one emergency is greater or less than the next, but sometimes just a little goes a long way and your very presence is a lifesaver for them. It’s a humbling and overwhelming experience.”
A MALE-DOMINATED CAREER FIELD
Historically, the fire-fighting career field has been a male-dominated industry. But that’s evolving, Stuhlman said.
“To women considering a career as a fire fighter, I would absolutely recommend pursing it,” she said. “It’s a great job in which you work with amazing individuals and get to meet a diverse group of people.”
While the position is physically demanding, Stuhlman said women can accomplish the same tasks as men simply by performing them differently. “There’s a little bit of trial and error in figuring it out, but it can be done, she said.
Stuhlman also noted that she never had any problems being accepted by her male counterparts. “It’s really like any other job because you are working with different personalities,” she said.
As political director for Local 2665, Stuhlman works with shops and locals on political engagement in elections and serves as treasurer of different political action committees that the union utilizes for political action or direct campaigning.
As a state field rep for IAFF District 2, she oversees a 501c4 organization established and funded for fire safety and education for the public and members and also assists locals with representation on policies, contracts and political action.
In addition to her work-related roles, Stuhlman is also a wife and mother of two young boys. She met her husband Kevin when they worked together at U. City, and the couple will soon be celebrating their 14th wedding anniversary. Kevin Stuhlman is currently a captain in the Pattonville Fire Protection District.
“Between work and family, there’s not much spare time,” she said. “But I’m fortunate that the work I do has been my hobby, and I was passionate about doing it before someone offered me pay for it.”