Fighting for a better community

Firefighter Sue Garrett sacrifices her personal time to keep Craig a safe place to live

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A firefighter's rookie year is tough.

For Sue Garrett it was made more so by the situation she found herself in 3 1/2 years ago when she signed up to be a firefighter with the Craig Rural Fire Protection District.

At the time, she was a single mother raising three children and working nights as a dispatcher at the Public Safety Center and taking classes at the college.

The rookie probationary period required her to be at the station every Thursday and participate in training sessions every Saturday.

Still, she found a way to make it work because she wanted to give something back to the community.

"It was the only thing that with my personality I thought I could give to the community," Garrett said. "I'm not a real girlsy girl."

Rookie year isn't easy for anyone. That's why they call it a probationary period. At the end of the year, rookies have to take what Garrett called a huge test.

Sometimes her schedule required her to be at the fire station until 10 p.m.

Then she worked at dispatch from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. She would come home, pack her childrens' lunches and send them off to school. She slept. When the children arrived home, she got them to their sporting events. A friend came over to watch them at night while Garrett went back to work. Every free moment was spent studying.

There was one other woman volunteering at the fire department. Both were expected to meet the same standards as their male counterparts.

"Everybody has a job to do. If you don't do your job, then you're in trouble," Garrett said.

But with that responsibility in the back of their minds, everyone takes care of each other, she said.

Garrett had her first unattended death the first weekend of May. A 41-year-old died of pneumonia. After the death, Deputy Fire Chief Chris Nichols came by to ask her if she needed to talk about a dozen times.

Her kids take care of her, too. Nathan had to grow up fast since Garrett wasn't always around.

She remembers the night of her first fire.

It was a four-alarm blaze. When she got back, Nathan met her in the house and said he'd made dinner and put the other kids to bed.

"He was like a grown-up man," she said.

Now he's 15, and he still wants to take care of her. His ambition is to become a professional football player. If he makes it, he said he would buy her a house before he buys himself one.

Garrett married her husband, Mike, in the spring of 2003, and she's also been moved to the day shift at the dispatch center.

Life has gotten easier, but her children still remain her first priority.

Before moving to Craig five years ago, Garrett worked as a park ranger in Carlos State Park in Minnesota. Since having children, she said her goals have changed. She said she couldn't leave Craig because she couldn't uproot her kids.

It's her dream to be a stay at home mom who spends her days at the fire department. Even though her job as a female firefighter is somewhat unusual, she doesn't consider herself a feminist.

"Because women could be firefighters ... that has nothing to do with it," she said. Aside from the community involvement, her other incentive to join the fire department was to show her children she was active in the community.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or rgebhart@craigdailypress.com

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