What's Up, South Texas!: Firefighting women express their passion for serving their community

By Japhanie Gray - Reporter

LEON SPRINGS, Texas - A volunteer fire department is showing that anything men can do, women can do just as well.

Leslie Merrell and Lydia Watts are two of six female firefighters with the Leon Springs Volunteer Fire Department, and they say their passion for the industry grows more and more every day.

“My daughter’s father was involved with firefighting,” Merrell said. “So one day, I decided to give one ride out a try, and I was hooked and been here ever since. It was a first love kind of thing.”

Merrell, who is a single mother with another full-time job, said it is worth dedicating time to the department.

"When it means so much, you find time to do it,” Merrell said. “It is not a chore or something you have to do. You find time, because it is something you love to do."

More than anything, she said she is happy to be a strong figure in her daughter’s life.

“She loves telling everybody that I am a firefighter,” Merrell said. “Not just her, but when my fellow firefighters walk through the doors to speak with kids, they see the men, and they are, like, ‘OK, there is a firefighter,’ but then when they see us, they are, like, ‘Wait, there are fire ladies.’ It is a game-changer.”

Watts, who also balances multiple jobs, began her firefighting career this year.

"Once I find out the call is for us, I am thinking, 'OK, it is go time.' I am running through every scenario in my head,” Watts said. “What am I going to find? What (do) I have to do when I get there? I have to know where everything is on the truck.”

Watts said her family members, who have experience in the medical field, inspired her to challenge herself in the firefighting industry. She said though the entire department acts like one big family with no difference between the women and men, she knows she has to work harder.

"It pushes me to be better, because I know I have to be a little stronger and a little faster and be more than what is expected of the average firefighter, because you are as strong as your weakest link. I don't want to be the weakest link,” Watts said.

No matter the case, they want their passion for firefighting to inspire young girls to go for whatever they want to do in life.

“Times are changing,” Merrell said. “There is no reason why girls can't do guys' jobs and guys can’t do girls' jobs. We should teach our children every day that there shouldn't be a difference."

The women also said they want the relationship they have in their department to be an example to other work environments.

"Our goal is all the same, and that is to take care of our community and do it together and make it look good. We all have each other’s backs at the end of the day,” Merrell said.

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