Special Report: Working Women

Marine Captain Sarah Ray with father. / Jessica Fairley

For a firefighter, lifesaving is the job, either you can do it or you can't, and Christie Bengis can.

Bengis is the first female relief driver in Albany firefighter history. For her, wearing the title didn't come easy. Christie worked nearly ten years proving herself, pulling the same weight as her male peers.

"If it's dragging a 200 pound guy out of the house, I've got to do it with them and a lot of females just don't enjoy it," said Albany Fire Department Firefighter and Relief Driver Christie Bengis.

This is why out of all the firefighters in Albany, there are only five females.

Many have dropped due to the pressure and stress of the job, not being able to handle finding dead bodies in burned homes and having to face death on a daily basis.

Bengis tries to think positively.

"There's a possibility that I can just get in my car and go out of town and just go to the store and something happen. So I try not to think of it any harder than anything that I might do in life," said Firefighter Christie Bengis.

It's not just a mental focus that women face, there's a physical effect on the body. Each suit weighs around 70 pounds.

"It's not about the weight. It's about how you can handle yourself. How you control your breathing," said Bengis.

The maximum amount of time to get in full gear is two minutes and for a female firefighter this happens at least five times a day.

While Bengis says she's had a small share of stereotypes forced upon her in the past, for the most part, she's accepted among her peers.

It's almost the same story for female Marine Captain Sarah Ray. She grew up in the military and held a vendetta against joining.

"Number one, never join the military and number two never marry military," thought Captain Ray.

But after the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 her outlook changed and a few months later she enlisted into a field that's 94 percent male and only 6 percent female.

"It is difficult. There are times that you feel like you have to prove yourself. I know that when I was going through training I always purposely carried more," said Ray.

Because of her height she feels it's been easier for herself more so than others.

"I had roommates at the basic school that were five-feet-tall and you put a one hundred pound pack on these ladies and it just equaled their weight," explained Sarah Ray.

Although female firefighter Christie Bengis hasn't faced much opposition because of her sex, the reality of it for Captain Ray was never concealed.

After a miscommunication among peers, she came across a situation where the fault fell on her and down came the rage from her higher ups.

"He starts to swear you bleep bleep bleep Ray. As we get out of the office. I couldn't stand to be there another minute," said Captain Ray, frustrated at the actions of her boss and peers, "I said why didn't you guys say anything. And they said we just didn't know how to respond to that. He either doesn't like you or he just doesn't like women."

This wasn't an isolated incident, while in Afghanistan a sergeant beneath her refused to respect her authority.

"He downright came out and said I cannot work for a woman. I don't agree with having women out here and I don't agree with having women in the military," said Ray.

But in spite of his beliefs she succeeded, knowing that women are not limited because of their sex.

Although following her career forced Ray to put her personal life on hold, the experience was worth it.

She says now's the time to take a step back and reorganize her priorities.

"I started a relationship with a great man and I'm looking towards to the future where that may go," said Captain Sarah Ray.

Now she's realizing the possibility of leaving her career and focusing on family.