“There will be obstacles.
There will be doubters.
There will be mistakes.
But with hard work,
There are no limits.”
My dad became a firefighter when I was 13. From that moment on, I would spend most of my time at the fire station with him. The Deputy Chief became my mentor and at age 15, he personally paid for me to take my EMT class at the local college. Because I was so young, my parents had to sign a waiver and I needed special permission from the Dean in order to take the class. Unfortunately, I failed. I had never failed at anything prior to that and I promised myself that I’d do better in the future because I never wanted to feel like I was a disappointment again. Pretty intense feelings for a 15 year old who failed a medical class in college, huh?
I continued to basically live at the fire station over the next few years. By then, the Deputy Chief had been promoted to Chief and had taken me under his wing. I wanted to learn everything that I could so when I came of legal age, I would be that much more knowledgeable. When I was 17, a chief from a neighboring department heard about me and offered me a position at his department as a Junior Cadet. I wouldn’t be able to be in the hot zone at a fire, but I would be able to train with them and fulfill my wishes of learning all that I could. I accepted. It didn’t go over too well with my mentor. He accused me of stabbing him in the back and told me that if his department wasn’t my priority, I needed to pack my bags.
Ironically, his words are what kept me pushing forward. Before the drama, when I failed my class, he told me that I would never be able to walk away because I had the heart of a firefighter. So the day I turned 18, I went and put in an application with his department. It was up to the Fire Marshal to accept or deny me. I was accepted. The Chief didn’t say a word to me for the next 5 years. Eventually he was demoted to the rank of firefighter and new officers were in charge, including my father.
As time went on and the years flew by, my resume began to fill up with my qualifications. Qualifications that I believed would earn me a promotion. The higher ups didn’t seem to agree. Even though I was highly qualified and experienced, I kept being passed over and watched as younger, lesser qualified individuals got promoted. I never questioned it, but as much as a person doesn’t want to admit it, it does take its toll on you. One day I finally found out why I wasn’t being promoted. My dad already held the rank of Lieutenant and they felt that if I was promoted it would be considered a conflict of interest. I don’t think I had ever heard anything so disheartening in my life. I honestly wanted to walk away. If there was no room for improvement, why was I there? After talking to my best friends about it, they helped me realize that I just needed to keep doing my job because it wasn’t about holding a position, but about making a difference. Not all leaders have the title. From that moment on my motto became: “Head down, do your job, and prove them wrong.”
In January of 2015, I hit my breaking point. As a member of public safety, you hear about that one call that just knocks you to your knees. The call that changes everything and could possibly end your career. Mine happened on January 28, 2015. A close friend of mine was killed in a motorcycle accident. An accident that occurred in my district. I completely blamed myself for not being able to save him. There wasn’t anything that anyone could say that would convince me otherwise. I had spent almost a third of my life training to help people and none of that mattered when he needed me the most. I was done. I no longer wanted to be a firefighter. I couldn’t do it anymore and I wanted out. I didn’t feel worthy of pinning the badge on my chest. I wasn’t sleeping and I couldn’t eat. I would spend most of my days crying. I was in a downward spiral and there was no stopping me. Fortunately, God intervened by sending me these two kids to show me that what I do does make a difference and that I had a lot of work left to do.
By this time, I had accepted the fact that I would never be an officer at either department and I was ok with that. I continued to mentor those who needed it. I remember the day that changed everything. We had a large brush fire one day and I had an all rookie team with me. We kicked butt!!! I can’t compliment them enough for how well they fought that fire. Afterwards, I was called into Chief’s office and was told that I showed the qualities that they were looking for in an officer. I was promoted to Lieutenant on the spot. There was no more question about whether or not I earned the position. Since then, I have been promoted to Deputy Chief of EMS (youngest female in the history of the department) at that department and Lieutenant at the other. As karma would have it, I am now my old mentor’s superior officer. Funny how that worked out.
One of the most incredible moments of my career came when a woman in Dallas, whom I had never met before in my life, graduated the Texas Fire Academy after telling me that it was her dream and coming to me for advice and support. I couldn’t be more proud of her! People ask me all the time what the best part of my job is. Yes, it’s amazing to be in a position to help those in need when they need it, but nothing compares to helping others see the potential in themselves. I want people to look at me and say, “If you did it, I can do it too!” I promise I’ll be right there in your corner cheering you on.
There were so many times I wanted to walk away, but there was always something that refused to let me go. Words will never be able to explain how thankful I am that I didn’t walk away each time I wanted to. Over the last 11 years, I’ve dealt with arrogant jerks, injuries that came close to ending my career, calls that tore me apart, but I’m still here. Nothing in this job has come easy to me and I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I get to the end of my career and look back I will be able to say that I worked for and earned every ounce of respect that I have. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.” If it all ended tomorrow, I can say without a doubt, that my career has been a success.