Carol Brown, who made history as Boulder Fire-Rescue’s first female battalion chief, officially stepped away from her longtime post on Wednesday.
Brown’s retirement occurred exactly 30 years after she first entered her career with the city of Boulder. After moving to Boulder from Lakewood, Brown began her firefighter training in 1991.
“It’s kind of surreal knowing that over half my life was spent as a firefighter for the city of Boulder,” Brown said. “At the same time, it’s exciting that I found a career that fit me and that I was able to make an impact in.”
Brown became a battalion chief in 2012, after serving previously as a lieutenant. As battalion chief, Brown ran the daily operations of the line personnel during their standard 48-hour shift and oversaw a crew of about 30 firefighters. One of her most memorable experiences on the force was responding to the flood that devastated Boulder in September 2013.
“I was on duty when the flooding actually started,” she said. “We were up all night running calls … but we did a good job.”
At the end of her years of service, Brown said the most noteworthy aspect was the people, pointing to the bond that develops from working with the same people for so long. The sentiment was echoed by many of her co-workers.
“She’s been like a sister to me,” said Jeff Martinez, who joined Boulder Fire-Rescue two years after Brown.
Brown received a warm farewell from her fellow firefighters Wednesday. To commemorate her three decades in the department, she was awarded a plaque, trophy, and retiree badge from Fire Chief Michael Calderazzo, who described her departure as “bittersweet.”
Brown gave a heartfelt speech in which she thanked a variety of people, from the firefighters she managed over the years to her friends that encouraged her to pursue a fire service career in the first place.
“I am filled with pride and honor each time I put on this uniform,” she told the crowd.
Brown’s retirement reduces the number of female firefighters in the department to just five. Brown said she is aware of the low number and emphasized the importance of increasing that number in the firefighting field.
“There are six times more women in the Marine Corps than there are in the fire service,” Brown said, a statistic that she attributes partially to the traditional culture of the firefighting world.
Calderazzo agrees that increasing the number of female firefighters is paramount. The department is pursuing the ambitious goal of having 25% of their force be women by the year 2030.
Calderazzo recently asked for volunteers to serve on a workforce recruitment and development committee that will focus on addressing diversity issues within the department. In addition to recruiting more women, the committee also wants to work on making it easier for lower-income people to pursue firefighting careers.
“The goal of the committee is not just to improve diversity, but to make sure it stays that way for the long term,” Calderazzo said.
Brown’s career with Boulder Fire-Rescue served as an inspiration particularly to other women in the department. Molly Cropp, who became a firefighter two years ago, recognizes that her own initial experience with the job differs substantially from Brown’s, which is a testament to the progress that has been made over time.
“Chief Brown and all the women who came on in her time frame paved the way for what women in the fire service are now,” Cropp said. “They’ve made it easier for us to be included — not as female firefighters, but just firefighters.”