Ally McNeely grew up in Madison and graduated from Daniel Hand High School in 2010, but she's not your typical 21 year-old woman. She recently became Madison's first female firefighter in 105 years.
"I served from age 16 to 20 as a junior member and then put in my senior member application this past April. I just finished my six-month probation period, so I'm in," she says.
When Ally isn't answering the sirens' call, she works at Stop & Shop right down the street from the firehouse, filling in wherever she's needed.
"I stock the shelves in health and beauty care. I ring the registers if they need me. Really I'll go anywhere. I work all departments except for meat and seafood."
Ally attended a year of undergraduate studies at the University of New Haven (UNH), studying fire science administration and arson investigation. Although she had to withdraw due to tuition costs, she says everything worked out really well.
"I took all my fire classes at UNH, came back home and did my Fire 1 and 2 training at the firehouse. I want to do EMT training in the spring and just keep my education going."
She credits her father for inspiring her to build her life around firefighting.
"My father was a member of North Madison's fire department, and then he came down to Madison. As soon as I was old enough, I was like, 'All right, I'm hopping in the car with you. I'm going with you to the fires, to the firehouse.'"
One memory of on-the-job action that jumps out at Ally was her first senior member fire where she actually went into the building instead of participating from the sidelines.
"It was Fourth of July. I was at my house having a family party, and the tones came in. Dad and I just kind of took off. We said, 'Bye, we'll be back.' I was actually second in on the line and we just did what we had to do. My dad drove the truck and I was with him in the back. I went in, but he was the driver so he stayed with the truck."
She says that, although she is currently a volunteer, she'd like to become a career firefighter. She currently has her eye on the New Haven Fire Department, which she says will be hiring soon, but wants to continue to volunteer in Madison even if she becomes a staff member in New Haven. She's figuring out the logistics of working for two firehouses in different towns, since many firehouses require members to be residents.
"It's a long process to try to get career," she explains.
While she was a student at Hand, Ally was active on the soccer, basketball, and softball teams, and played ultimate frisbee during her year at UNH.
"I actually play on the softball team with the firehouse," she says, though she notes there's a significant difference. "It's slow pitch and I'm used to 90 mile-an-hour softballs coming at me. They come a lot slower, and its not the same. It actually took me a year to get used to it. I barely hit the ball at first."
Ally has two older sisters, Abby, 29, and Amy, 22.
"Amy and I are 18 months apart to the day within a half-hour of each other," Ally points out.
Thanks to Abby, who lives in East Haven, Ally has three nieces and a nephew between the ages of 2 and 9.
"I definitely spoil them," she says. "I try to go there once a week."
Ally says that when she transitioned to senior firefighter and became Madison's first female firefighter in more than a century, she reveled in it for about a week. Then she got down to work.
"Gender doesn't matter to me. The job needs to get done, so I'm the first person to go out there. I don't mind getting my hands dirty, and most girls do. For me, it's literally about the job getting done. I was born and raised into the firehouse."
She adds, "I call the other members my brothers. It's a brotherhood, so now it's just a brotherhood with a sister in it."
In her few free moments, Ally spends time with the two Boston terriers she rescued from a high-kill shelter. She is also a colorguard in the Deep River Senior Ancient Fife and Drum Corps, where she's learning how to play the snare drum.
Right now Ally is enjoying her role on the firehouse roster.
"The officers do all the paperwork and reports," she says. "I get to have all the fun and then do a couple hours of clean-up."