Feb 02, 2024 1:02 AM

52 Faces: Heeding the (fire) call

Posted Feb 02, 2024 1:02 AM
Photo by John Lovretta
Photo by John Lovretta

By William Smith

Everyone loves Amari Bailey. And she knows how to give that love back.

The 18-year-old Burlington High School senior is best known for her charity and ability to chuck a shot put. But she’ll soon be known for her latest accomplishment.

Bailey will fight fires with the West Burlington Fire Department beginning next month. She joined the department after her 18th birthday in December. She was a junior firefighter for the department for three years before that.

“You don’t get to do much as a junior firefighter. You’re just there to watch and learn. And that’s okay,” she said.

Bailey has been learning a lot. When she passes her firefighter certification test this month, it will be the culmination of daily hard work. Lifting hoses, lifting ladders, lifting dummies. That’s where her expertise in shot put and natural strength come in handy.

Bailey is also taking EMT certification classes at Southeastern Community College in West Burlington, and most of her freshman year of college is already finished. She graduates high school this May. 

“I’ve had a lot of people tell me, ‘You can’t do this. This is a man’s job,’ ” Bailey said. “I’m very determined. I’m going to show them that a girl can do it.”

Though she loves to prove doubters wrong, spite isn’t what motivated Bailey to pursue a career as an EMT.

It was love. Love for her fellow human beings. That’s why Bailey is a certified lifeguard instructor at the West Burlington Swimming Pool. When a man was shot in the neck/jaw area in the parking lot a couple of years ago, Bailey was one of the first to jump to the scene to stop the bleeding.

“I’ve always loved helping people. That’s been my main goal,” she said.

Amari’s parents, Stephanie and Antonio Bailey are known in Burlington for their charity efforts, but Stephanie attributes her daughter’s kindness strictly to Amari. Stephanie and Antonio provided the loving household, but it was Amari who wanted to spread that love beyond the front door.

“She’s always been like that,” Stephanie said.

When Amari was in elementary school, around the third or fourth grade, she gave her birthday presents to a girl with Down Syndrome. She befriended the girl while attending Blackhawk Elementary School together, and Amari warned her friends where their gifts were going before the party.

“She didn’t get birthday or Christmas presents, and I thought she deserved to have them,” Bailey said.

That became a theme for Bailey — giving away her birthday presents to others. She hosted donation drives for those who are homeless and raised $150 to buy stuffed animals for the pediatric ward at Southeast Iowa Regional Medical Center on her 16th birthday.

Amari became interested in an EMT career after repeatedly watching the TV show “Chicago Fire.” Her mother, who watched the show with her, never questioned Bailey’s desire. When Amari wanted to be a firefighter, Stephanie said, “Okay.”

West Burlington fire and police chief Jesse Logan cited Bailey’s dedication during a recent council meeting. He said she would be an asset to the fire department.

“She’s a good kid,” Logan said.

Stephanie Bailey always knew her daughter could do whatever she set her mind to. She saw that firsthand when Bailey sprung into action at an accident scene.

“It was on Mason Road in front of Edward Stone (Middle School),” Bailey said. “We kind of crept up on it, and we were going to turn around. But there were seven cars behind us, so we were stuck.”

So Bailey watched. She wanted to help the firefighters on the scene, but that would have been a big “no-no.” 

She’s been with the junior fire department for three years and knew she would have gotten a talking-to if she helped without certification.

So she watched them attend to what looked like a car crash. One of the vehicles was tipped on its side.

“I’m kind of nosy, so I was looking,” Amari said.

An elderly couple walked to the scene and stood by the Baileys’ car. Amari didn’t think anything of it until the lady collapsed.

As the only one trained to help, Amari leaped into action. She didn’t need CPR or any life-saving techniques, though she is trained in those. The lady had fainted because her grandchildren were in one of the vehicles.

No one was injured in the accident, which Bailey checked on personally. Bailey didn’t need bandages. Just her natural kindness.

“I told her everything was going to be okay. Nobody was hurt. She was having a panic attack,” Bailey said.

By then, Bailey’s adrenaline was surging. Her parents were on the verge of exploding with pride. And all she could think of was chasing that high for the rest of her life.

The high of saving lives and making the world a better place. That’s Bailey’s hobby.

“I don’t have a lot of downtime because I’m always running,” she said.