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San Diego Spotlight
Meet a Volunteer

One woman chose to change her life mid-career and follow her dream into firefighting

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Firefighter Siene Freeman

There comes a time when one looks around and says, “Is this it?” For Siene Freeman, that moment came with a family health crisis. “My husband and I realized that life is short. We didn’t want to look back with regrets,” Siene says.

From the beginning

“In Kindergarten our class took that trip to the fire station all kids take, and I remember saying, ‘I want to be a firefighter,’ she remembers. As she got older, people would ask her what she wanted to be, and when she said “firefighter,” it was invariably met with, “Oh, honey, you’re a girl. Why don’t you pick something like nursing?” With enough negative reinforcement, she quit telling people that was her dream, and earned a degree in Exercise Physiology, directing her professional efforts towards physical fitness with an emphasis on medical integration.

After the family emergency, and with her husband’s full support, Siene trained as an EMT, took Palomar College Fire Science classes, and applied to their Fire Academy. “Their physical and academic testing process is extremely strenuous,” Siene says. “There have only been six or seven women who have made it all the way through. The last woman to make it through was more than seven years ago.”

Siene did well in the program, and was hired as a Reserves volunteer by the San Diego County Fire Authority. That may sound peculiar, “hired as a volunteer,” but County volunteer firefighters also have to pass extremely strenuous requirements. Those who cannot pass the physical, psychological, and academic testing are not allowed to be volunteer firefighters.

Her secret? Preparation and continuous learning. “It’s a matter of how much you want something. If you are willing to keep fit, thoroughly prepare, and keep moving towards your goal, I believe you can get there.”

Siene is currently stationed at Lake Marina near Campo with Captain Cox, primarily focused on working emergency medical calls. “You know, walking into this situation as a female, you hear rumors, there’s always a little fear about whether they will accept you,” she says. “This crew is really amazing. In fact everyone I’ve worked with so far has been great.”

She has just been offered a full time position in the City of Fullerton. “I will keep working as a volunteer until the day I start in Fullerton, because you never know what’s going to happen, and you have to keep your skills sharp.”

Favorite story?

“My first week with San Diego County, we were the first engine to respond to a wildfire. I walked out in full gear with the nozzle, and I could not stop smiling! I’m here, I thought. I’m doing it!”

One aspect of wildfires rarely discussed outside firefighting circles is that creatures often catch fire and run, spreading the fire. Firefighters are tasked with stopping them as best they can. “I saw a rabbit come running out of the fire area, it’s coat had started burning,” she says. “So I aimed the nozzle and doused it until it was out,.. and it was okay. I saved a bunny during my first wildfire. It was amazing.”