Allanah Turner makes her living fighting fires, but the blaze that burns inside her won’t be extinguished anytime soon.
“Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a vessel and influence as many lives as possible,” says the 20-year-old Gulfport native. “I knew I had to start somewhere; why not my community?
On Sept. 28, Turner reached a life milestone while also making history as she graduated from the Gulfport Fire Department Academy — becoming the city’s first black female firefighter. State Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes was on hand to congratulate Turner and applaud her accomplishment.
“You are the first, but you won’t be the last,” Williams-Barnes said on social media. “You set the stage, broke the ceilings and created a new road for other little black girls in Gulfport to follow.”
Turner’s early success in athletics, namely track and basketball, paved the way for her firefighting career. In 2018, she and her track team at West Harrison High School won the state championship, and in 2019, she was named the female athlete of the year by the Gulfport Sports Hall of Fame.
After high school, Turner received an offer to compete in track and field for Mississippi State University. She instead made a difficult decision to play basketball at Pearl River Community College, ending her college sports career.
“Realizing I wasn’t making an impact or inspiring in a way I had hoped through sports, I took the most significant leap of my life and became a firefighter,” Turner says.
Throughout the 13-week training, Turner and her classmates were tested mentally and physically.
“The hardest part was always mental, that raging inadequate feeling and self-doubt,” she recalls. “My favorite part was the evolutions in training that emphasized teamwork and how important it is to be the best version of yourself for your crew.”
Turner may have questioned her ability at times, but she never succumbed to negativity. She pressed on by remembering why she started, “and that the reason is much bigger than just myself.”
“My passion for this job most definitely comes from having an ‘I-get-to versus an I-have-to” mindset,” Turner says, “and serving in any and every way we are needed.”
The new firefighter credits her family’s “continuous support and never-ending love” for making her success possible. As for her teammates and colleagues, she adds, “They never allowed me to make room for the thought of having to feel those feelings of self-doubt and emotions alone.”
Over the next five to 10 years, Turner intends to continue learning, growing as a leader and climbing the ranks in the department. As Gulfport’s first black female firefighter, Turner hopes to be a symbol of opportunity for other black women and youth who share her ambition.
“It also means representing growth and resilience,” she says, “because although this is presently rare, it will become normal.”