Linda Strader, one of the U.S. Forest Service's first female firefighters in the 70's, shares an inspiring piece about overcoming life's challenges against insurmountable odds.
I left early. A little snow and ice challenged me on this cold and blustery day. I reached the summit, my knees trembling from the precarious exposure. It’d been years since I’d stood on this volcanic pillar, with expansive views in every direction. I shed my gear, huddled out of the wind as best I could, and opened the old Army ammunition box to sign-in. With my frozen fingers grasping the pencil stub, I wrote:
I never thought I’d ever hike again, much less make it to the top. But I’m here!
"I never thought I'd ever hike again, much less make it to the top"
Ecstatic, I jumped up and screamed, “Woo-hoo!” flailing my arms. Seconds later another hiker joined me. Embarrassed, I wondered if he’d heard me. We exchanged greetings, hollering over the howling wind. He seemed friendly, so I yelled out the significance of my being there. He yelled back, “Congratulations!” Yes, indeed. I deserved congratulations.
Doors were now wide open. I can hike anywhere I want! I revisited every trail in the Santa Rita Mountains. Hiking connected me to my twenty-year-old self—the strong woman who used to be a firefighter.
My favorite trail to Florida Saddle, a tough, steep, rocky trek, didn’t offer views as grand as the trails to Mt. Wrightson, but here, Douglas firs reached their full potential, some so big it would take three people to wrap their arms around them. I greeted a familiar one, wrapping my arms around its ample girth. Thanks for waiting.
At the saddle, surrounded by these peaceful, majestic trees, I couldn’t help but think about my summers of fire in these very mountains. Despite everything that happened to me: discrimination, knee injuries, painful surgery and even more painful recovery—I had no regrets. I’d discovered that when you love what you do, it’s not called work.
"I'd discovered that when you love what you do, it’s not called work"
Someone asked me not too long ago if I missed firefighting. I’m not sure why I’d said “no,” because as soon as they walked away, I thought, of course I do.
My time as a firefighter will always be an important part of me. I still feel nostalgia for the camaraderie, the excitement, the glamour, the hard work—all of it.
I love to tell fire stories to anyone who will listen.
On the news, I hear that another wildfire rages out of control—over a hundred thousand acres. Fires get so much bigger now. Glued to the screen, I can’t look away. I hear that voice, feel that twinge, that says—
I want to go ...
This piece is a short extract from Linda Strader's memoir "Summers of Fire"
Linda Strader is one of the first women hired on a fire crew with the U.S. Forest Service. A naïve twenty-year-old in the mid-1970s, she discovers fighting wildfires is challenging—but in a man's world, they became only one of the challenges she would face.
Summers of Fire is an Arizona to Alaska adventure story that honestly recounts the seven years Strader ventures into the heart of fires that scorch the land, vibrant friendships that fire the soul, and deep love that ends in devastating heartbreak.
Buy the book - "Summers of Fire: A Memoir of Adventure Love & Courage:
Linda on the job fighting the Hog-Fong Fire 1977
Connect with Linda:
- Blog address: https://summersoffirebook.blogspot.com/
- Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/LindaStraderauthor
- Twitter: @desertplantlove
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I was on the Hog and Fong fires (with you?) in the summer of 1977. We had 6 women on our 20 “man” crew. I remember coming out of the wilderness to hear that Elvis had died.
Hi Randy, I was the only woman on my crew. We were from the Coronado NF, Nogales District. I was in fire camp the day they announced that Elvis had died. You might enjoy my book…that fire was quite the adventure. 🙂
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What an inspiring post! Please do share more stories of your days as a firefighter. 🙂
Thank you! I have done just that.
As I read this post I could the passion that lies in the voice. A plus was me gaining knowledge of the forest having a fire crew. And lastly, loving what you do is so important. So many people are still trying to figure it out or figure out a way to do what they love to do. As for me I am in the process of figuring a way to do what I love to do.
You will! That’s awesome. Don’t let anything get in your way.
Hiking means so much to me too. I completely understand that amazing feeling when you reach the top of a climb or end of the trail. Thank you for protecting our valuable forests for so many years. You are a courageous woman.
So kind of you to say…thank you.
[…] through. But when you look at your story and what you've overcome to get where you are today, you see the hero in that […]
I have heard about Linda but not knowing her story. Thanks for sharing.
Truly an inspiring and touching story! ☺️ True that when we love what we do, we do it with passion and enjoy it and it doesn’t become a chore everyday. Being a woman too in a maledominant line of work is empowering! 💪😊
Thank you, Mandria!
I have a background in Global Women’s History and Women’s RIghts, I found this so very interesting and will be looking for the book after this. Linda, you are a pathbreaker… thank you! Are their networks for women firefighters? Any history books about them?
Hi Melanie … I agree, Linda is a pathbreaker. I like the way you put that. Also, very interesting background. I would like to hear from from you.
Hi Melanie, Thank you! Wow, how interesting. I’ve been called a pioneer and trailblazer…but it’s hard to see myself in that way. 🙂 There is a Facebook group called Wildfire Women, but I don’t know of any others. No history books that I know of…yet…although I met (and was interviewed by) a woman who is interviewing as many women who have worked on a fire crew as she can. She calls her research (and has a Facebook group by the same name) The Women of Fire: Wildland Fire Oral History Project.
Such an inspiration. I can’t imagine what she went through as a firefighter.
Thank you. It was a challenge, but I never thought of it in that way. It was something I loved doing, and figured out ways to keep on doing what I wanted.
“When you love what you do it’s not called work.” I love this!! What a great woman!
Thank you for your kind words. 🙂
This post wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it was still so good. I’d hoped for more on the actual side of the firefighting but her strength clearly shows even in this!
Thank you Nina … This was a glimpse into what Linda has had to overcome in her life. I also interviewed her and she is an inspiring woman with an incredible story. If you’d like to know more about her life as a firefighter, her story is a great read.
What a strong and inspiring woman!
Thank you. 🙂
My dad is a firefighter as well! This piece was such a great read. I’m intrigued! Thank you for sharing.