Women play active role in WVFD

They were once called firemen and every little boy dreamed of growing up to be one.

The name has changed and so have the times.

Three of the 24 firefighters for the Williams Volunteer Fire Department are women. On the job 10 years now, firefighter Lucy Reynolds-Ortiz can now reflect about what the job was like at first.

“When I came on, I was actually the first women to complete the training and become a certified firefighter,” she said.

Connie Stevens was actually the first women voted on the force, but it was Reynolds who has stuck with it for the last decade.

“At one point there were five of us, but now we’re down to three,” she said. “One of those is a cadet who’s still in high school.”

That cadet firefighter is Becky Perkins. The other woman firefighter is Ofelia Robbins, who has also dispatched for the Williams Police Department for the last four to five years.

“The fire department has given me a lot of confidence and it has been a good learning experience,” Reynolds said.

Both Robbins and Reynolds admit working for WVFD was difficult at the beginning.

“When I first came on, it was a struggle and it was hard,” Reynolds said. “I had two things against me — I was a woman and my body weight.

“There was a lot of proving that you could do things.”

Fresh out of high school, Robbins said she jumped at the chance to fight fire and, by doing so, help the community.

“When I first graduated from high school, I was a wildland firefighter,” she said. “Basically, I learned what can happen to the environment and people’s property with a fire.

“It was something that interested me.”

It was Reynolds who sponsored Robbins to get on the force.

“I really didn’t have a problem getting on except for the old men on the department that didn’t feel ready for the change,” Robbins said. “They felt we couldn’t lift or do the job.

“I never said anything, I just proved them wrong.”

Helping out the community and the people in it are Reynolds goals. That’s why she was fire prevention office for eight years.

“I saw a need for prevention in the community,” she said. “There was never a fire prevention officer when I applied to the board.”

During her tenure as the fire prevention officer, Reynolds handed out smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers, along with a ton of informational packets. She instructed school children about the dangers of fire, through various visits and different fire prevention classes, and the importance of having an escape route.

“I started the Juvenile Firesetters Program six years ago,” she said. “It’s not just for kids who got into trouble, it was for parents who thought their kids needed fire education.

“The class taught them the consequences of starting a fire and they learned how to react and deal with anger in a positive way.”

She also initiated a program that listed and checked smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in the homes of senior citizens.

“If you equip people with the knowledge and the tools, they’re better off,” she said.

Training for WVFD is the same as regular fire department’s. Monthly, the group trains two times and holds a business meeting. On the force are people certified in search and rescue, wildland fires, exterior fires and the fire chief, Ian James, is a paramedic and is certified in water rescue.

“Eventually they want all of us firefighters to become EMT’s (emergency medical technicians),” Robbins said. “Everybody is welcome to go to additional schools to get more training. It’s just up to us to go.”

In the past, Malone’s Automotive and residents have provided added hands-on training through their generosity.

“Sometimes Malones gives us cars and sometimes people give us a house to practice fire-fighting techniques with,” Reynolds said.

Learning about fire and training never end, Reynolds said. On Sept. 5-9, Reynolds was attending fire school in Mesa when she was treated to a special treat.

“I got the opportunity to help instruct,” she said. “That was a big thing for me.”

She added being a part of a volunteer fire department has its own challenges.

“You never know who is going to show up first,” she said. “You have to be prepared to pump up the truck and take control.

“You have to wear many hats — we have to know how to do it all.”

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