“I knew I wanted a career change,” said Laura Leigh Bransford, recent Cape Fear Community College First Responder Academy graduate and newly-hired firefighter at the Wilmington Fire Department. “And I knew I always wanted to help people.”
Bransford, a military wife and mother of a seven-year-old boy, was focused on her husband’s military career. After moving from Wilmington to Austin, Texas and back again, Bransford stayed at home with her little boy and worked as a part-time assistant and event coordinator for Poplar Grove Plantation. With growing passions for athletic training, teamwork, and helping others, she was naturally drawn to firefighting. “I realized it was never too late go after my dreams,” said Bransford.
In the summer of 2017, Bransford tried out for the Wilmington Fire Department. She did not make the cut, but Bransford persisted: “I knew I was not giving up. Then I found the First Responder Academy at Cape Fear Community College.”
Bransford described her experience with the First Responder Academy, “It was a key point in changing my career. The instructors and the classmates were great mentors and friends. It was a huge growing and learning experience. It was a big family and a great environment for learning. And I really came out of the program a different person…for good.”
Upon her First Responder Academy graduation, Bransford was hired by the Kure Beach Fire Department. Shortly thereafter, she went through the application process with the Wilmington Fire Department. Four hundred applications were taken, with just 24 spots to fill. After a series of written, physical, and oral tests and a panel interview by firefighters of all ranks, the Wilmington Fire Department offered Bransford a position.
Now, Bransford continues to work part time for Kure Beach Fire Department as she goes through her six months of training as a recruit with the Wilmington Fire Department.
Bransford offers advice to parents who have children and a family to support seeking a career change, “Going through school is temporary. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I would often call my friends and ask my parents, who lived two hours away, to help with my son. A support system is essential. Put in the time and I promise you, you will be rewarded.”
And to others dreaming of a career change, “change your negative thoughts into positive thoughts.” Bransford continued, “Put one foot in front of the other. Suck it up and do it; put that hard work in. As you start to accomplish small things, your confidence will build and you will begin to see those small accomplishments grow and grow.”
As a firefighter and mother, Bransford has learned that sweat and hard work are essential to growth. “That’s what you have to do to grow — you have to make sacrifices.”