Ninetta Violante joined the Decatur Fire Department as a 28-year old firefighter in 2001. Today she is the Support Services Captain. She arrived at this post by quite a circuitous route. Because of a strong desire to help others she had sought to work on the AIDS campaign in California, but couldn’t land a job, so traveled to Africa and worked as a volunteer. From there she came to Atlanta to enroll in the Master’s Program in Public Health at Emory. To shore up her finances she enrolled with a temp agency that referred her to a job in the Decatur City Hall. While there the staff questioned Ninetta about her aspirations. Then they asked, “Would you like to become a firefighter?”
“I had gone through boot camp, I had been a personal trainer, and I am an athlete. I have always wanted to save people. And here they were, ‘you should be a firefighter!’ Wow! I had never considered that. Then I got really excited. I was so scared because I thought it was a really good fit and thought, what if I don’t get it? But here I am.”
“When I started it was difficult because I was 5’2”, 125 pounds, and female. I was also unsure about letting them know about my sexual preference. I’ve always been okay in male-dominated scenarios, whether it was the military or just growing up participating in athletics. Often I was the only female on a team. But at the Fire Department, I had to prove myself. It was probably the first time where I wasn’t accepted by some because of my gender. It was hard. It took about three years before I gained the trust and respect of all the firefighters. Today, our department is very open and accepting. I think we’re ahead of the game compared to what’s occurring nationally and internationally. If I didn’t work for the City of Decatur, I don’t know if I would work for a different department.”
Although Ninetta has always been excited about pushing the limits of her physical capabilities, she is also creative. She is an artist and poet. Once, Ninetta donated one of her paintings for a silent auction to benefit a charitable organization. The painting included some prose about finding someone with whom to connect. While the painting sold, Ninetta was disappointed that she had not met the buyer. Years later she connected with a woman named Leigh. On one occasion, Ninetta offered her a book to read that she considered worthwhile. In response Leigh said, “I’d like to show you one of my favorite and most touching art pieces.” As it turned out, Leigh, had been the one who had purchased Ninetta’s painting years earlier. She had not been able to decipher the signature so had always wondered who had created the painting. Today the painting hangs in the home Ninetta shares with her wife, Leigh, and their son, Gavin.