NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - “My dad growing up always said you can do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it,” said New Hanover County Sheriff’s Deputy Erica Paquette.
That never-give-up mentality helped drive her to be the first full-time Emergency Response Team (ERT) member in New Hanover County.
“There have been other females on the ERT team but as far as full-time, I am the first,” Paquette said. “It’s not easy. You’ve got to keep up with the guys, so that in itself is a challenge - but it’s a fun challenge.”
The ERT is a highly selective, physically demanding, and mentally challenging position. It’s made up of about 40 members total, but only six positions are fully dedicated to the team. The other members have other duties on their plates as well.
The ERT team responds to any sort of high-crime event, and the full-time members are tasked with serving warrants and responding to any sort of high crime.
Paquette began her career as a sheriff’s deputy in the jail, then worked patrol before becoming a school resource officer at New Hanover High School.
Eventually, the ERT caught her eye and she became determined to make it.
“Growing up, it was always something that seemed kinda cool. You watch movies where say it’s like a female like G.I. Jane. It’s a female doing pretty much a guy’s job, and you don’t see that every day. So, we have the team here, I heard about it, heard their standards and thought well, maybe it’s something I could do if I apply myself,” Paquette explained.
Deputies must complete a 10-12 hour training course to even be considered for the course.
“It essentially tries to put you through hell and make you want to quit. But the biggest thing is you can’t quit. And at the end, cool you made it through but guess what? There’s 40 something guys on the team and if they don’t want you on the team, it doesn’t matter,” Paquette said of the selection process.
She has been a full-time ERT team member for about seven months and says she is hopefully optimistic she will make it past her probationary period.
Being physically fit is a major component of being an ERT team member. You must also be a master shooter, an area Paquette says she still working to improve.
The team is always on call, but works hours similar to K-12 school hours in the event of a school shooting.
“We’re always ready to respond to any sort of high crime or just craziness that happens in the county,” Paquette said.
Paquette admits keeping up with the guys has been difficult. However, she wants to be considered just that, one of the guys, who can do the job just as well as they can.
“Yes I’m female. Yes I’m a girl. But when it comes to being on the team that doesn’t matter. Everything that they do applies to you the same way. There’s no leniency of oh you’re a female, you can’t do pull-ups. No, you’re going to do pull-ups,” Paquette said. “I didn’t join the team to be like hey, I’m the first female. Yeah it’s cool, but that’s not why I’m on the team. I don’t want to go around and say that and set myself apart. Again, cool - but at the end of the day you just want to be one of the guys.”
Her advice for any young women who may want to venture into a predominately male career field, is the same advice that got her where she is today.
“Just never quit. Just absolutely never quit," Paquette said. “If you put your mind to something, I don’t care what anybody says, just don’t give up because that’s what’s going to get you where you want to be.”