Lady firefighters empowered by national conference

When Ana Gonzalez became a firefighter/EMT for Odessa Fire Rescue a year ago, the 21-year-old’s parents and friends weren’t 100% convinced it was the right job for her. To be quite honest, she wasn’t quite sure herself.

“I got the sense that I would enjoy something high pressure, something to get the adrenaline going,” but the idea of going into the fire service was still daunting, she said.

Her parents and she agreed — she should give it her best shot, but if it didn’t work out, that was OK.

It turns out, she loves it.

The Odessa High grad is now on her way to becoming a paramedic. She also just got back from the first-ever Women’s Weekend at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she took a two-day course called Leadership and Supervision: Creating Environments for Professional Growth.

Gonzalez, who is stationed at Station 4, started out thinking she might face some obstacles because of her gender and age. That turned out not to be the case.

“It’s a lot more comfortable than I thought it would be, I can be myself,” she said.

After her first horrendous vehicle-versus-pedestrian crash, Gonzalez said members of her crew went out of their way to check on her and to reassure her, they, too, were bothered by the scene.

The two other women she went to the academy with, along with other women in the department, empower and lean on each other, she said.

She was thrilled when OFR Chief Jason Cotton sent out the email inviting her and the others to attend the June 24-25 conference in Maryland.

“It tells me he’s for us promoting. He’s for women in leadership positions…it’s not something you’re going to be excluded from. It’s definitely inclusive for everyone,” Gonzalez said. “I think most women think that it is a stretch, that it’s not accomplish-able, but these women (at the conference) really made me feel personally that it is accomplish-able and very do-able.”

She attended the conference with Dafnay Betances, Kayla Hogan and Marisol Duarte.

“It was great, it was amazing,” she said.

Many of the other attendees were from Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, she said.

“It was great to see a lot of women in leadership positions. The majority of the women there were captains, a lot of female captains, female training captains and a lot of them go by ‘lieutenant’ which is the same rank as engineer so there were a lot of lieutenants there,” she said.

During the class they learned about the different approaches leaders can take, but they also heard a great many personal stories, Gonzalez said.

“The best part was listening to the more experienced women and their challenges as they started in the fire service because it was very, very different than my experiences starting in. The difficulties they had to go through, the actual challenges they had as everyone adjusted to women in the fire station. It was amazing to hear all of the stuff that doesn’t happen anymore,” she said.

There was one fire captain forced to sleep in the hallway because there were no accommodations for her.

“It was a very safe space. It made you feel like you wanted to share your personal experiences in detail because we can all relate somehow. We can all relate and we can all empathize with those hardships or with that progress,” she said.

On the final day of the trip, the women visited several national monuments and her personal favorite, the Smithsonian.

“I loved every minute of the trip,” she said.