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Woman becomes a firefighter years after department saved her life and gives back to society

In 2016, Tenley Gillett was saved by a local fire department. Now she's part of the team. 'It’s just full circle,' Gillett said.

Woman becomes a firefighter years after department saved her life and gives back to society
Cover Image Source: YouTube | WMUR-TV

Trigger Warning: This article contains themes of suicide that may be distressing to readers.

It's been over seven years since one of the darkest days in Tenley Gillett's life. In 2016, she jumped into the Merrimack River after troubling thoughts and was later saved by the local fire department just in the nick of time. Manchester firefighters were among those who rushed to the scene. Gillett's life completely changed after the incident and she was determined to pay it forward as a survivor. She is now one of the newest firefighters at the Manchester Fire Department in New Hampshire.


“About seven and a half years ago, I made, luckily, my last and most severe suicide attempt. I was in a pretty bad place for a long time,” Gillett said, according to WMUR. “I decided to jump off of a cliff, that area of the mills.” The 30-year-old, who is also in the U.S. Army Reserves as a firefighter, couldn't be more grateful to her rescuers. “They tried to lower a ladder down. The water level, I think, was fairly low. I don't know how, but I didn’t hit any rocks when I jumped,” Gillett said. “That was the start of my major recovery, mentally.”

The incident made her rethink her life. While what happened in 2016 is not the reason why she wanted to become a firefighter, everything just fell into place... Today she is not only a firefighter but also a business owner. “I just really want to become a good leader and inspire others to whatever path they're on, to keep pushing forward,” Gillett said. “To work hard and not be a victim of your mind.”


At first, Gillet never dreamed she would be part of the force. When friends who had been part of the fire department tried to convince her to join over the years she joked to one of them, “I was like, ‘No, man. I'm too small. I don't think that's for me.’” However, a few years later, Gillet began her training and joined the Reserves as a firefighter in July 2021.

“It’s just full circle,” Gillett said. “What they did now enables me to be here and serve with them and for them and for the city and for the state.” The story has also affected others in the department including Chief Ryan Cashin who said in a statement, per PEOPLE, “I couldn’t be more proud of Tenley. She has worked so hard to get where she is. She is truly an inspiration. The most basic job of a firefighter is to help people. Tenley is the perfect example of that, helping people on and off duty. We couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Gillett is currently on “probation year" and working "24 hours on and three days off" while undergoing more training and tests. She's hoping to complete an advanced EMT class by March as she tries to take life one day at a time. While she doesn’t see herself as “inspiring,” she hopes her story will remind people that it's okay to ask for help. "I've never thought of myself as that,” she explained. “I just try to work hard.” No matter what anyone is going through and what the circumstance is, she says, "there's always help."

If you are having thoughts about taking your own life or know of anyone who is, please contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)


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