One of the best ways to encourage young women to pursue nontraditional careers such as construction, technology, manufacturing, and law enforcement is to introduce them to strong women already succeeding in these fields. With that in mind, we'd like to unveil a new feature here at Do It, Learn It, Live It: Role Models.
Role Models will feature interviews with women and men working in nontraditional fields and a look at the steps they took to get there. First up, Teri Apodaca-Stonebarger, a Yamhill County fire fighter, EMT, and mother of three. She started training at age 42 and is on her way to accomplishing her ultimate goal of working full time as a paramedic (preferably in Hawaii). This is her story.
Job: EMT/Firefighter, Carlton Fire District; EMT Volunteer, McMinnville.
Why were you drawn to this kind of work?
It is fun and exciting and every call and situation is different. I love the medical side of it the most and I knew by joining the fire department as a volunteer I would get my foot in the door and have more access. Fire fighting isn't something I will be able to do for a long time, given my age, but the medical part of it I can do much longer: it is physically demanding but not as much as fire fighting. I am getting my Fire Prevention degree as well as my Paramedic degree so I have something "fire" related to fall back on and a chance for a different career in the same atmosphere.
What does a normal work day look like for you?
General house duties, house cleaning, ambulance/fire engine check, run calls, run calls, run calls, eat, run calls, run calls, run calls, eat, nap, run calls, run calls, rest? McMinnville is very busy--we run anywhere from 15 to 25 emergency medical calls and fire calls in a 24-hour period. We get over 6000 emergency medical calls alone in a year which doesn’t count the fire alarms, wild land fires, and structure fires.
What steps did you take to make your career goals a reality?
I joined as a volunteer fire fighter in Yamhill and stayed there for a year, then I moved to Carlton where I am an EMS/Fire fighter volunteer. I was a student at McMinnville for fire and EMS for 2 1/2 years and am now an EMS volunteer there. While volunteering I have been going to school full-time. Within the next year I'll have my Associate's Degree in Fire Prevention and a certificate in Management in Fire Prevention. I have taken fire classes to become a fire fighter (structure) an engine boss (wild land), so I can go to the big wild land fires and be the "boss" of my crew. I was a First Responder, then an EMT Basic, then an EMT Intermediate, and now I am trying to get into a paramedic program.
What’s your favorite thing about your job?
I love working the wild land fires--the fires in trees, grass, etc.--they are fun and exciting. I like structure fires but not the loss of people’s belongings and homes. I also really like the patient care aspect of the job. I am really excited about getting my EMT Intermediate because I can start IV's and give drugs, and this is one step down from my ultimate goal of becoming a paramedic. I got to start a 16 gauge IV on a trauma patient the other day, it was the first 16 gauge I did (they are huge needles). I knew if they needed to push fluids or give drugs right away while transporting him by helicopter that IV could help save his life...so it is little things like that I love. And the rush of it all!
Loss of a life, for the family and friends that are left behind to grieve. I have seen some pretty sad people and it is very hard to watch a mother be devastated because she lost her son.
Have you run into any challenges as a woman in this field?
At first, especially at my age, I was "challenged" at the fire department in subtle ways. I was left to do everything, all the grunt work, and some of the guys wouldn't talk to me at all. I would ask them a question and get nothing, no reply. After a while they figured out I could actually do the job and pull my own weight, and then I was treated just like the guys. Even with the challenges, it was a great experience for me and taught me a lot about being out on an ambulance and fire engine.
What skills are important for success as a firefighter/EMT?
Compassion, quick thinking, thinking things through, trying to quickly diagnose what is wrong with the patient and taking action without panicking. Laughing and not internalizing what you had to do or what you had to see, and trying not to be judgmental.
What advice would you give to people, especially young women, who are considering a career as a paramedic?
Study, study, study, become the best you can be, and know your stuff! Be confident but not cocky... it is a very fine line. You have to prove yourself--to your colleagues and to yourself.