Volunteer Fire Fighters make up about 78% of the Fire Fighters in the US, this is even higher in rural areas. We need more volunteers men, women, young and old there are a variety of jobs that people can help with from running in burning houses, refilling water tanks to feeding fire fighters at fires or even just cleaning the toilet at the station.
Betsy Pierce has been fighting fires for over 25 years as part of the Latir Volunteer Fire Department. She grew up in Albuquerque coming first to Sunshine Valley in the mid 70s leaving to go to college and returning to El Rito in 81. Encouraged by a friend she joined the department because there was a need for people. On the day of the interview she said that there haven’t been many fires over the years but she explained that LVFD is called in to other districts, as they come into Latir as well. Car wrecks are also a huge issue in the calls.
One lasting impression on Piece has been going to national and international conferences for Women in Fire Fighting. Pierce spoke about the exception that LVFD is in having many women on the Crew. She recalled a recent training where 80% of the attendees were women. This is different Nationally and Internationally women may make up 3% of departments, “I’ve heard a lot of stories of women being tormented…. teasing and not taking care of the women in situations where they may need help, as any fire fighter needed help. It’s hard to break into a boys club. We’re really lucky in our department.” When asked how they deal with the issue in other departments she explained that “there are a lot of lawsuits in other, so things are changing slowly.” Conferences that she has attended leave her grateful that she is apart of a department with so many women. Other Women from other departments are always amazed at the high percentage of women in Latir.
Pierce has attended fire schools and trainings for the past 25 years. She takes part in the weekly trainings where crew continually reviews procedure and practice on equipment as a team. When asked what changes she’s noticed over the years she explained that things have gotten more professional people are more up on techniques, the crew works together as a team more. One great challenge that she sites is keeping the water going as there are no hydrants in the rural areas so shuttling water from a storage tank is a big part of it. Fire trucks will empty in about 2 minutes. There are a number of jobs for volunteers.
Some of the challenges have been time, people aren’t paid and at times it takes a lot of time, but it’s rewarding to help neighbors. The department is also able to help the volunteers as after years of showing up for a major percentage of meetings and trainings and being active responding to calls qualifies the volunteer for a small retirement as well. “It’s been great, I’ve learned a lot and it makes you more self sufficient and it’s empowering.” When asked what it was like 25 years ago she explained that in Latir it was fine as there were always some women but when she went to other districts there were none, “people would stare and you would be under a lot more scrutiny.” She explained that there were women where only women have responded and they did fine they did a good job. “I think that women should volunteer I think that women can do it just as well as men its more about attitude about helping other people and contributing to your community than it is about how strong or how young you are.”