Chapter one: 'It's important to have visibility for those that can't'
In the small Peach County town of Byron, the same person has led the fire department for the last 11 years.
Same leadership, same skills on the job, but one noticeable change -- Chief Rachel Mosby is transgender, taking the steps to go from a man to a woman during her time in one of the city's top jobs.
"It was just organized chaos and everybody working together putting a fire out, and I've been doing it ever since," Rachel said. For most of her working career and half her life, Rachel Mosby has worn a uniform. "In 2004, became a district chief," she recalled.
She came to Byron three years later as a fire marshal. "In 2008, they nominated and voted for me to be the fire chief," she said.
She was a different person back then. "It started in 2016, I started medically transitioning," Rachel said.
Rachel is transgender. Uncomfortable as a man, she began the journey to becoming a woman. "I mostly grew up in a small town, smaller than the one I live in now, and information wasn't available and it wasn't something you just went and asked grownups about. there just wasn't information sources for this stuff," she explained.
We asked Rachel about the man she was before the transition and she didn't really want to go into that. For her, he simply doesn't exist anymore.
But he existed to the guys at the fire station, and in a profession where very few women, much less transgender individuals, fill the ranks, Rachel had some intense conversations ahead of her.
"I needed to be able to trust them with this the way that I ask them to trust me every day when they come to work," Rachel said. "These people are like my family here at the fire department. We're all family, and it's the same thing like going to family with that, and I think that the majority of the reluctance on my part had to do with my own underestimation of their character, and in the end, it wound up not being as big of a deal as I thought it was."
You can't hide transitioning from a man to a woman, and as the fire chief, Rachel had to expand those conversations to city department heads -- a perceived tough task in a small town in the Bible Belt. "What I've found is that allies and friends have come from some of the most unexpected places," she said.
And then she went one step further -- she talked to us. She didn't have to share her story, but she felt a need. "It's important to have visibility for those that can't. There's a lot of folks that are unable to be visible with their transition because of a lot of different reasons," she said. "And then there's people that are afraid of everything that goes with it -- it's not always smooth for everyone that follows this path."
These days, Rachel says she is at peace, comfortable in her own skin, and feels proud to take a leadership role in the transgender community.
"Everybody who knows me or has known me for some time says I've never seemed happier in my life," she said with a smile.
Rachel has served on several panels in the transgender community. As for logistics in the firehouse, the sleeping arrangements haven't changed -- the guys and Rachel just change clothes in the bathroom. Both of the bathrooms are unisex.