.First Responder

Central Fire Captain Laurel Walters moves on

Central Fire Capt. Laurel Walters, the first female firefighter to be hired by Central Fire Protection District, hung up her helmet June 6 after 28 years of service.

As a farewell ceremony, fellow firefighters joined her and her family, including her husband, two teen boys and her teen stepdaughter and grandmother, for a final run across town in a fire engine.

“I’ve been reflecting a lot these last few weeks,” she said. “Thinking about my career as a firefighter, I feel I won the lottery. It’s such a lucky thing; I didn’t plan on being a firefighter—it kind of found me.

Walters said her career has been “a wild, amazing ride.”

“There’s been ups and downs,” she said. “The fire service is such a unique organization; there is this family aspect to it. I was born and raised in Santa Cruz, so being able to work here and drive the engine around, run calls and help people and wave to people has been incredible.”

Walters was hired by Central Fire Dec. 1, 1996 as a paid call firefighter, and then promoted to firefighter in 1998. She completed the firefighter/paramedic training in 1999 and was promoted to captain in 2007.

Walters was also a member of the department’s aquatic rescue team. and served as lead of Central Fire’s Explorer program that introduces high schoolers to the world of fire service.

“I did hear a lot about a woman not being able to do this kind of work,” she said. “There’s a funny story where we were all standing at Jade Street Community Center and I was standing in front of this one gentleman and all the guys in uniform were standing behind him and he looked at me and said, ‘So sonny, how long have you been doing this?’ And all the guys beyond him were laughing, but he couldn’t see them. And I just said, ‘You know what? I’ve been doing thas for a while now, sir.’ But overall, I got so much support. This department has been incredible.”


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Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.
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