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A flame that didn’t die: Woman overcomes injury, gender norms to become welder

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, May 11, 2019
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Forging Her Path

FORGING HER PATH – Dani Brown welds a piece of metal Wednesday at Crown Fabrication and Design in Decatur. Brown is one of the few female welders in Wise County. Messenger photo by Austin Jackson

At dawn, beyond the rain soaked gravel of the Crown Fabrication and Design warehouse in Decatur, a crew with sleep fresh on their eyes gets to work.

Storms brought the work inside for the morning. A group of six make wisecracks as they grind metal parts into shape around a table.

They’re joined by Dani Brown, who trades verbal jabs with the guys before suiting up, pulling her long brown hair beneath a beige cloak and fastening a helmet over her head.

She fills custom gloves which have been snipped at the tips on the left hand then hoists parts on a table.

“It’s hard to find gloves for women,” Brown said. “It’s not a big market.”

She tests out the welding gun. Then, with sweat and dust pooling on her forehead, Brown flips down the visor and sends sparks and smoke in her wake, joining metal to metal.

Brown, a mother and a wife, is also a welder, one of the few working locally in the traditionally male dominated trade.

“I’m right there doing everything the guys are doing,” Brown said. “I cut everything. I’m out in the field, unloading parts. I do like they do.”

Undaunted

UNDAUNTED – In 2015, Dani Brown suffered a workplace accident that injured three of her fingers on her left hand. Despite the injury, she’s worked as a welder since 2016. Messenger photo by Austin Jackson

Brown has been a welder for three years.

She’s proven she can hold her own after working for Crown Fabrication and Design for the past eight months, according to owner Jeremiah Greene.

He said he hasn’t worked with female welders before Brown, but didn’t hesitate to give her a shot when she came in for an interview.

“Male, female, it doesn’t matter to me,” Greene said. “If you can do the job and do it well, that’s all I care about. I’m not going to cater to anybody, male or female, if they can’t handle their business. She came in and busted her butt. She’s been with us since.”

Brown juggles her 3-year-old son and her work, feeding him breakfast and getting him situated before clocking in to work at 7 a.m.

Most days she works out in the field, welding frames for buildings and pipes, at times welding up high on roofs.

Once on the job site, she makes a point to pull her weight. She unloads and loads heavy parts and machinery, just like the rest of the crew.

Greene said Brown does her job well, which in turn motivates the rest of his employees on the job site.

“I don’t think of Danielle as a female, I think of her as a crew member,” Greene said. “I think everyone sees her that way. Just one of the crew. Honestly, she makes the guys work harder. They don’t want to get outworked.”

Brown doesn’t want to let herself get outworked by the guys, either. It’s been that way since she was a kid. She said she doesn’t back away from challenges or preconceived notions.

She grew up working on her dad’s truck and tinkering on motors. A tomboy from birth, she’s never been afraid to get her hands dirty.

“I’m a metal head through and through,” Brown said.”Since I’ve always been that way. Always wanted to be one of a kind.”

Her motivation to work doesn’t come from outside. It doesn’t come from proving the men wrong who assume she will be a liability, or the women who don’t think she could possibly do the job she’s held for years.

The motivation comes from within.

“I want to prove to me more than anybody, that I can do it,” Brown said. “I want to prove to myself that I can do anything.”

In 2015, that internal voice pushing her forward was nearly silenced.

At the time, Brown worked as an equine groomer. She was walking a pair of horses to a fence line outside the arena when one of the horses got spooked and began kicking.

Brown knew she had two options – get kicked or lose her fingers. She chose the latter and the nylon rope burned through her left hand.

“It was absolutely the worse sound I have ever heard in my life,” Brown said. “I was completely in shock.”

Rope cut through skin and bone, leaving lose flesh hanging from three fingers. She was rushed to the emergency room and eventually transferred to Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

Brown said she had worked with her hands her entire life. Now, she was faced with the possibility of not being able to use them.

“My life flashed before me,” Brown said. “I thought, ‘what am I going to do?’ When I was taken to the hospital, they were attached, but hanging. It was gnarly. When I saw my fingers after the surgery, my life flashed before me again. I didn’t know what I would do for work.”

Within a week, she decided she wouldn’t let the injury stop her. She refused to accept a fate of working in an office.

“A week later, I sat up and told myself, I’m a very strong person,” she added. “I told myself, ‘You know, I’m going to go to school to go weld.'”

Despite the injury, and the reality that women make up a minority of the welding workforce, Brown went headfirst into welding, going to school at North Central Tarrant College. Her hands took six months to heal.

Despite nerve endings screaming from the tips of her hands, Brown was steadfast in achieving her goal. She trimmed the fingers on her gloves and attached electrical tape on the ends.

Not achieving her goal wasn’t an option.

She worked through months of physical therapy to regain use of her left hand all the while attending welding school. In December 2015, Brown graduated.

Two months later, her son was born.

“It was a lot,” Brown said.

Brown juggled a newborn baby and a new career. She found a way.

She and her husband started a welding company, and Brown worked on the side for another small welding business up until 2018.

She kept pushing and eventually got a job at Crown Fabrication and Designs in Decatur. It was then that she felt that she had made it.

“Being here and being around everyone else, I felt like I belonged,” Brown said. “No one looks at me any different. We’re almost like an army of our own.”

Brown said she bounced around from job to job leading up to the accident. She always worked with her hands but nothing truly stuck.

In welding, she’s found something permanent – a passion that challenges her to be her best every day.

She’s a mom, but she’s also a welder, a point she takes pride in.

“I have 101 excuses why I can’t come to work, but I’m here every day,” Brown said. “I make sure my child is taken care of and fed and everything else. I’m still able to come in here and work, six, seven days a week or whatever. You can do anything if you set your mind to it. Being a woman, it doesn’t hold you back. If it’s something you want to do, don’t think about it, just do it. That’s what I did.”

Brown’s life motto – don’t talk about it, be about it – has led her to a career in welding.

She still has a few more goals she’d like to accomplish in her career. She wants to work on a high-rise one day.

“I’m afraid of heights, and it’s weird, but my favorite place to weld is up high on a roof,” Brown said. “It’s a challenge and a rush. Welding on a high-rise in a big city, that would be the ultimate. If I had one way to go, that would be it.”

Aside from chasing the adrenaline of welding high above the ground, Brown said the most rewarding goal she hopes to complete is to one day recruit a crew of female welders and lead them as a team at the shop.

“We would rock,” Brown said. “Leading an all-female welding crew would mean the world.”

There’s nothing stopping that from happening, Brown added. All it takes is desire, confidence and hard work.

“If I can do it,” she said. “Anyone can.”

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