Nica Vasquez now has 15 years of experience as a Fire Apparatus Engineer for CAL FIRE, a life set to be profiled on “Lives on Fire,” a new television series premiering this Friday on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
However, it wasn’t an easy road to get where she is today.
CAL FIRE/Riverside County Fire Department
“I was raised in a family where we really gave back to our community,” she said. “It wasn’t about the money we made but providing a service and being good people.”
She said she initially pursued nursing but wasn’t happy. Her thoughts turned to her father’s stories of being a CAL FIRE firefighter, and her experience growing up near a local fire station. “I knew I was up to the challenge,” she said, and after volunteering, it was settled. She had the realization that “I know I can do this, I’m made for this,” she said.
However, to achieve her goal, she had to make the gut-wrenching decision to leave her eight-year-old daughter behind in Southern California with her mother, while she accepted a fire academy opening in Northern California.
“I had to bite the bullet and do it, and it was the hardest decision of my life,” she said. “I went there on a mission and it was ‘do or die.’”
She couldn’t afford to live at the fire academy barracks, so she accepted living quarters at a local fire station in exchange for 40 hours per week of volunteer service.
“The guys there really took care of me,” she said. “I never could have done it without Sutter County Fire.”
After graduation, she immediately started trying to get into CAL FIRE, knowing that was where she wanted to make her career, just as her father had.
She was hired as a seasonal firefighter within three months, and stayed in northern California for that position for another four years. That meant living away from her daughter and family for about half of each year, just visiting once a month.
“Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to make it happen,” she said. It was a sacrifice to her, her daughter and her family, but eventually she got a CAL FIRE position that brought her back home.
“It was the greatest day of my life,” she said. “I knew it had all paid off at that point.”
Now she’s stationed so close to home that her grown daughter and two granddaughters can visit her while on duty. “The girls can stand on the side of the road and see me drive up,” she said.
She encourages other women to follow their goals, even into male-dominated fields. “I know how it can be intimidating when you’re the only girl,” she said. “You have to have that self-confidence… that self-confidence is everything, and forward progression is everything.”
She adds, “In the end, the one that gets the job is the guy that’s most persistent. Keep showing up, keep making yourself better, and keep being persistent in every way. Make every day a better day.”
"Lives on Fire" premieres Friday, June 8 at 9/8c on the Oprah Winfrey Network. For further details, visit the "Lives on Fire" page.