One of the nicest people I ever got to work with...Bou
15 YEARS’ SERVICE: Diane Matsumoto found a second family with Fire Department.
By CHARLES HAND / The Valley Chronicle
Published: Friday, July 10, 2009 5:33 PM CDT
Diane Matsumoto’s retirement ends the career of the first woman to serve in the Hemet Fire Department.
Her arrival meant there would be some changes, Matsumoto said — for her, not the department.
“I had to test like everybody else,” she said.
And, when she got to her first Hemet station, she just slipped into the life, including the fact that there were no rooms, just barracks arrangements, and only one shower.
“We took turns,” Matsumoto said.
Well, there was one modification. A lock was installed on the bathroom door with an indicator that showed “occupied” or “unoccupied.” That was it.
If any of the guys thought they had to watch their language around Matsumoto, that fear was put to rest the day a fellow firefighter let loose with an obscenity before he thought.
Matsumoto’s response was, in her words, “a colorful response” that put to rest the fear she was sensitive about such behavior.
“They found out they didn’t have to worry about swearing,” she said.
And that was about the worst social problem she faced, Matsumoto said. There were no incidents of harassment.
“I was married with three kids,” she said. “I think that helped side step issues a lot of women have. I just needed to put my game face on.”
Well, nothing that would be considered out of the ordinary.
Like any new firefighter, she was tested. There were gags in her sleeping space that she preferred not to discuss, just as there were with every new firefighter. They had nothing to do with her being a woman, she said.
“I didn’t take this job to change people’s attitudes or to make a point. I joined to become the best firefighter I could be.”
Matsumoto credits two firefighters with the most experience with smoothing the transition.
Raymond Ray and Frank Ballard “knew just how to play it,” she recalled.
“They gave me an opportunity to sink or swim. I think they weren’t threatened.”
Matsumoto said the camaraderie that grows among people who work, live, eat, sleep, and clean together was the best part of her time with the Fire Department.
“I will miss the people most of all,” Matsumoto said. “Half these guys I remember when their first child was born.”
Because five firefighters, four of them with long histories with the Fire Department, retired at the same time she did, Matsumoto said the city has lost a lot.
“The city has lost so much more than institutional history,” she said.
The worst part is what “we used to call the slide show.”
That’s the series of snapshots of fires, of the injured, the burned, the dead that sometimes replay themselves through a memory in quiet times. “You need to take care of your mental health,” she said.
And there’s that camaraderie again. Because everyone has been there, the firefighters can talk with one another about that slide show.
Humor helps too. On the way back from a particularly gruesome call, the firefighters will begin assimilating the experience with humor, black humor.
The day that will live forever in Matsumoto’s memory was the morning her truck pulled up in front of a house at which a 16-year-old girl committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree in her parents’ front yard.
She doesn’t know why it happened. “We’ll never hear the background,” she said. “That’s not what we do.”
At times like that, Matsumoto called her kids at home.
“I called Jesse (her daughter). We just talked.”
She never discussed the gory details with them, but “they always knew.”
“It really is a family endeavor,” Matsumoto said of the fire service.
It takes a firefighter away from home around the clock and the family shares in the experiences.
Over time, the firefighters become a second family.
“You’re definitely losing a big part of your family,” Matsumoto said of her retirement, though she will see some of her colleagues again on occasion.
“The fire service attracts people who thrive in that teamwork setting,” she said. “I love that.”
What she did not love was the day the city decided to close station five, the newest station, which was housed in steel buildings on the east end of town.
“Closing station five was a huge blow,” she said.
So was the rejection of Measure O by Hemet voters in November.
“The guys felt unsupported,” she said.
In fact, given the budget cuts that have cost the department 14 positions, “we don’t feel like an essential service,” Matsumoto said.
And that’s a shame when the city has found what Matsumoto considers the best chief she has worked for in Matt Shobert.
On her way out the door, Matsumoto began work on a grant application that, if it succeeds, will be used to build a state-of-the-art fire station.
“It would be my going-away present,” she said.
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07-11-2009, 03:28 PM #1
Hemet, CA first female Firefighter retires...
07-11-2009, 05:37 PM #2
- Join Date
- Jan 2003
- Canuck Expat May be anywhere
To FF Matusomo
Enjoy your well earned retirement. Best wishes for the future.
07-12-2009, 07:24 PM #3
Congrats to you and your retirement. I hope it pans out well for you."Courage is the resistance to fear, the mastery of fear, not the lack of fear." Mark Twain"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." Uknown
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