Local firefighter women share their empowering career stories

Left, Talia Flores from Humboldt Bay Fire. Right, Brook Hoalton from Cal Fire. | Photos by Karina Ramos Villalobos

Only 5% of firefighters in California are women. In a male-dominated industry, local firefighters Talia Flores and Brook Hoalton, share their empowering career experiences this Women’s History Month.

“Never in my wildest dreams would of thought that I would end up with the fire service,” Flores said. “My dad is in the military and so from a young age, it was something that I was interested in, joining the military. But both my parents just repeatedly told me no. So I think the fire service kind of fills that void for me of wanting to give back as public safety.” 

Flores joined a local volunteer agency in Blue Lake in 2019 and that is where she discovered her passion for fire services. In 2022, she joined the Humboldt Bay Fire. Originally, she thought she’d have a different career. 

The first fire agency Flores worked with was mostly men. There was only one other woman in the department. Flores knows that could seem intimidating for some, but it’s evolving and she sees more women joining the fire service every day.

“I’ve learned to, use my voice and just present well, be strong,” Flores said. “A lot of people have to earn that respect in the fire service. And I feel like I’ve done that. It takes being able to vocalize, be a leader, and step up.”

Flores is Humboldt Bay Fire’s Community Risk Reduction Specialist and the Public Information Officer. She also still serves as an active Captain in Blue Lake and goes into the field for different emergencies like traffic collisions, structure fires, and wildland services.

“And that’s my favorite part of this job, like getting out into the field,” Flores said. “It’s a very rewarding job, very rewarding career. I hope to be in the fire service for many years to come and to continue to educate myself on other aspects of the fire service.” 

Hoalton the Fire Captain for Cal Fire Humboldt Del-Norte unit also began her firefighting career in her 20s. She took a first responder course locally and soon after she was asked by a group of volunteer firefighters if she was interested in joining them for “jaws of life” training. 

“I was like, yeah, I want to do that,” Hoalton said. “So I went to that training and I was like, this is something I really want to do. Then they’re like, hey, next weekend we’re going to go back and do rope rescue. Is that something you’re interested? I was like, yes, that’s what I want to do. So I did that and I just fell in love with it.”

Hoalton then decided to become a volunteer firefighter and didn’t realize that she could do this as a career. 16 years later Hoalton has experienced many triumphs with Cal Fire. 

“I started out in Humboldt, Del Norte as a seasonal firefighter and I worked on the engine and then I did six seasons on the helicopter,” Hoalton said. “And then I also, after I started a family, I went to the air base. So I got to work with the tankers and get to tug aircraft.”

Hoalton and Flores share advice for women who are thinking of starting a firefighter career.

“I would tell them to reach out to other women that were in the field,” Hoalton said. “There’s documentaries you can find online. There’s YouTube videos, there’s social media pages where you can join a social media group to talk about your struggles, to try to get that support, to deal with some of those issues. Like what is it like to be in this profession but also want to start a family? 

Flores said her recommendation is “to just get out there and see if you’re interested. There are so many different routes and don’t be scared. It’s a mostly male-dominated industry, but that doesn’t mean anything. That doesn’t mean that it can stop you from doing that. It doesn’t mean that you have less of a chance if you’re qualified and you’ve got a good work ethic, anybody can do this job.”