Most people don’t make a habit of running toward danger.
For Teresa Singleton, when a friend suggested she join the Detroit Fire Department, her response was blunt: “Are you crazy? I’m not running into burning buildings man!”
But as a recently divorced single mother headed back to her hometown from Texas, Teresa didn’t have many options. And 24 years, a couple burns, a few broken bones, and a grueling back surgery later… She’s proven not to be like most people.
Today, she is a Fire Engine Operator for the DFD and the pride she takes in protecting the city she loves burns bright.
“I didn’t grow up wanting to be a firefighter,” she explained. “I did it out of desperation. I needed a job. But it was divine order,” she said. “It was meant for me to be here, in service to others.”
Teresa has in fact always been serving others in some way. From her disabled father and his ailing mother to her siblings and their children, family came first. Then, she turned her attention to the community.
“I faced challenges, even in a stable family, just growing up in the City of Detroit,” Teresa explained. “But I’ve always had aspirations to mentor young women and men because I believe anyone can make it here and not just become another statistic.”
Luckily for the Durfee Innovation Society, Teresa grew up just blocks away and now lives across the street. So, when she was looking for those mentoring opportunities — let alone start a business — she didn’t have to look far: She is the owner of BouTiki, a women’s clothing boutique located within the DIS which also trains local youth in retail operations, and The Recess Room, a convenience store also located on campus.
“Political racism left lower income neighborhoods in Detroit uncared for and unkempt,” Teresa said. “All of the opportunities that were accessible to me were no longer available for my children. The neighborhood was seriously lacking the opportunities and resources that Life Remodeled and the Durfee Innovation Society are now offering. So, I was most excited about the collaboration between other business owners to support the children and the adults and the seniors of the immediate community. I didn’t feel like I was on an island alone.”
Whether it’s responding to the fifth alarm or running those two businesses at Durfee, Teresa believes relationships built on trust are critical.
“My crew… Our partners… I believe every man and woman has my back in any situation, and I certainly have theirs.”
Though she would have never imagined she’d become a firefighter, there is a clear connection between these two very different worlds of danger and trust.
“There’s a saying that floats around the department: ‘I wish my mind could forget the things that my eyes have seen’,” Teresa shared. “And that’s held true in the community where I grew up and with my peers who didn’t make it. But I have a lot of hope for Detroit. I chose to stay. I chose to make a difference. Everything I do is out of love for this community. And I would ask others to stay on course with even the smallest act of kindness.”
“We move fear out of the way through our training,” she continued with pride. “It’s not about yourself; it’s what you’re doing for others.”
In other words… We all really do need somebody to lean on.