Albuquerque firefighter blazing path for female wildland firefighters

Womens History

An Albuquerque woman who was told ‘no’ so many times throughout her 40-year career is ending it by making sure other women have a leg-up in the wildland firefighting community.

“Women can do the job equally as well as men,” said Bequi Livingston, a now-retired wildland firefighter.

Back in 1979, Livingston first got involved int he firefighting community. She was begged by her teachers to pick another career path, as they feared she couldn’t cut it as a firefighter.

“{They} did everything he could to talk me out of it, ‘you’re too small, you’re a woman, it’s too hard, you’ll get hurt’. Of course, what does that make you want to do? Something more,” said Livingston.

However, that didn’t stop Livingston, who stands at 4-foot-10, from becoming a strong, successful wildland firefighter.

“When you get out on the fire line, fires not going to be prejudice. They don’t care if you’re small, you’re tall, you’re male, you’re female, whatever,” said Livingston.

When Livingston joined her first fire department in Southern New Mexico back in the ’70s, she says it was a different time.

“The supervisor kept saying- and I won’t say the explicit because they’re not nice- but there was no way he would have a woman on his crew,” said Livingston.

Leaders there repeatedly tried to give Livingston a desk job.

“Of course, me, you know it’s not only no, but NO,” said Livingston.

Livingston was determined to make it onto the toughest team around, the Smokey Bear Hot Shot Crew and she eventually did.

“It’s tough and it’s scary,” said Livingston.

Through her 18 years as a firefighter int he field, Livingston responded to more than 500 wildfires including national tragedies. Livingston counts her days fighting the Yellowstone Fires of 1988 as some of the scariest of her career. 

“We knew it was bad and we knew that fire would blow up. Sure enough, my boss was on a hill and he said get your bags and get the heck out of there,” said Livingston.

Livingston had to be airlifted out after collapsing from smoke inhalation and it was after she got home from the fires that she decided it was time to do something else.

“I wanted to make a difference,” said Livingston.

Livingston first launched the ‘Fire Fit’ program, which is still used to help firefighters cope with PTSD.

“For years and years, we as a wildland fire community kinda dismissed the whole PTSD, emotional aspect of it and that’s huge,” said Livingston.

After years of brainstorming and planning, Livingston created the Women in Wildland Fire Bootcamp. The very first one was in 2012, in the East Mountain’s Cibola National Forrest.

“We’d come through the ranks and it wasn’t an easy task,” said Livingston at that boot camp in 2012.

The boot camp gets women ready for a career in wildland firefighting. It focuses on the physical, mental and emotional aspects of the job.

“The whole premise was, lets set people up for success and not for failure and make sure they know exactly what they’re getting into,” said Livingston.

Seven years later, the boot camp is still growing.

“We do need more women. Women are just as capable,” said Livingston.

Now retired, Livingston likes to look back on her decades-long career. She still has her fire boots, pack and several prestigious awards around her Albuquerque home. 

In her phone case, she carries a picture of her and her Hot Shot crew.

“I carry this picture just to remind me of my roots,” said Livingston.

Livingston says the proudest part of her career is bettering the lives of firefighters and helping blaze a new trail for hundreds of women.

“I’m really excited because I think it’s going to make a difference in people’s careers and again set them up for success,” said Livingston.

The boot camps still happen every year and are now being held in more areas across the US. Livingston says more than 200 women have completed the program.

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