As a firefighter/paramedic, a lieutenant with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, a wife and a mother of two, Tobi Porter is accustomed to putting out fires, literally and figuratively. It was her ingenuity that has opened up a new chapter in her life, entrepreneur. “I breastfed both of my girls for just over 1 year,” Porter says. “I did a lot of pumping in the back of the Rescue and Engine and at the station to achieve this, which was a very hard fought for achievement.” Because of her 24-hour shifts, Porter recognized a need to improve breast milk storage for working moms, inventing Milk Trays, which allow moms to freeze their expressed breast milk in single-ounce servings. That way only the ounces needed are thawed for each bottle, eliminating wasted milk. The entrepreneur has run Sensible Lines LLC for almost six years and says it is a great feeling to be able to provide essential nutrients to your baby and continue to do a demanding and rewarding job.
What do you think is the secret to your family’s success?
My husband is so supportive of everything I do. Being gone for 24 hours, he has to be the “It” Dad while I am gone. It also helps that we do the same job. We have crazy lives both working opposite 24 hour shifts. (Clay is a firefighter/EMT and lieutenant for St. Pete Fire Rescue.) That means we only get to spend time together every third day! So communication is the key to our marriage. We both also have jobs outside of the fire department. I have my business and he is an instructor for the Fire Academy for Hillsborough Community College. So you can see that the time we do have together is precious and we have both learned that sometimes it’s not always how much time you have but what you do with that time. Family always comes first.
What is your biggest fear?
That in wearing so many hats I fail to make sure I am there for my girls. Being gone for 24 hours every third day has its disadvantages. Then I also work on my business at home. I know that even though I’m there in body, I’m busy responding to emails, filling orders, doing invoices. I don’t want my daughters to feel like they have to schedule an appointment to spend time with me. I want to inspire them and empower them but I don’t want them to feel like I’ve forgot them along the way.
What advice would you give to other women?
You can be anything and do anything you set your mind to. We are amazing and glorious, kind and generous, courageous and strong. Never underestimate yourself. Never doubt yourself. Never accept limits. We can inspire a nation. We can change the world.
What is your proudest moment?
I think one of the greatest things I have accomplished besides my wonderful daughters is hearing that other female firefighters have been encouraged and supported to breastfeed by the male firefighters on the job. It now is considered the norm! I have even been told by some of their wives that they are great supportive breastfeeding husbands because of me.
What is your biggest achievement?
Inventing Milk Trays and knowing that my product is helping moms achieve their breastfeeding goals. So many moms today have to work and breastfeeding rates in the U.S. significantly drop after the first three months, mainly because moms are now pumping and storage bags have been the only thing available to them. I have invented a product that gives them a better choice for storage and in doing this, will hopefully be a part of increasing breastfeeding rates in the U.S.
What makes you happy?
Several things actually: spending quality time with my girls, romantic getaways with my husband. (A lot of times that just means dinner and a movie. But when you don’t see very often each week, it’s the little things that really count.) Running into a patient or one of their family members (when I’m in uniform) and having them tell me how much I helped them. Having a customer email me and letting me know how much my Milk Trays have helped in her breastfeeding journey.
How do you relax and take time for yourself?
I love to play video games! I don’t really get a lot of chances to do it but it really is fun. My family has an Xbox 360 and I love to play zombie fighting games with my brother in law. It is a great way to relieve stress and frustration. I actually started playing after I had my second daughter. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and I read in an article that playing video games could help and it did.
How do you feel about the Tampa Bay area?
We live in an amazing town! Tampa is really an up and coming city with so many great places to spend time with your family and friends. Tampa is a city that supports women in many different aspects and the opportunities are out there.
What else would you like to share with our readers?
I love being a firefighter/paramedic. I love that I am opening up doors for women in Fire Rescue. I am excited about the new chapter in my life (being 40). I am glad that I have my business to look forward to and I hope that I can convince my husband to have maybe one more bundle of joy in 2013!