On Thursday, Brittani Rawls became Passaic Fire Department's first female tillerman. That's the firefighter who sits in a seat in back and steers the tail end of a firetruck.
It's the kind of challenge she relishes, because in a city crammed with traffic, tight streets and double-parked cars, life for the tillerman is never dull.
There are no brakes. Instead the job requires a feel for how the back of the truck swings and for what the driver is doing so that the tillerman can adjust the movement of the back end. Rawls often has to steer one way and then quickly recover.
"It kind of glides," Rawls said, adding that often people don't realize how far the rear of the enormous ladder truck might have to swing out. "I love it. I live for the thrill of things."
Becoming certified as a tillerman requires nerves of steel and lots of training. It's a big achievement, fire officials say.