Female Firefighters Take The Heat

This all-female firefighting squad from Signal Village defies old ideas of what women can do.

Published June 18, 2018

They are the All-Female Firefighting Squad of Taguig City.

Stationed at Signal Village, they watch over the citizens, ready to spring into action at the first sign of danger. As we sat down and talked to them, they recounted one of their most dangerous missions where they had to extinguish a fire in a chemical factory.

“We got a call about a factory fire in Brgy. Bagumbayan. We were still in the process of confirming the report when the fire alarm sounded,” said FO1 Diana Agustin, 24. Factory fires are, by far, the trickiest to extinguish. The raw materials and chemicals inside are volatile and prone to explode without a moment’s notice. Those exposed can also suffocate from toxic fumes. Many firefighters have perished trying to combat factory fires.

“The other fire trucks had to replenish their water tanks, so it was our turn to rush in.  We had to tear down the door to get to the fire,” said Agustin. “Nakakatakot kasi ang nasusunog ay acetylene na ginagamit sa metal (It’s scary because the burning chemical was acetylene − a highly explosive gas used for cutting metals).”

Girl power

“We are all women,” said SF02 Maye Madelar, the squad leader. “Anything our male counterparts do, we can also do.” Madelar, 46, has been fighting fire for over three decades. While she exudes a warm demeanor capped with a smiling face, her toughness is evident. It is a trait one earns when faced with countless death-defying ordeals.

“Collaboration and teamwork are important in this job. We all have different roles when a fire breaks out, and it’s each person’s responsibility to know what that is,” said Madelar. “We have to run like a well-oiled machine.” Facing dangerous situations together created a lifelong bond among the squad members. “Sometimes, after putting out a fire, we would bond over videoke or we’d go out to dinner together,” shared P02 Rossana Chipay, 35. “It’s our way of de-stressing and feeling closer as a group.”

Local stars

Imagine a fire truck with only women on board.

“We actually have a local fan club!” said Madelar, with a hearty laugh.  “May fans kami sa Facebook (We have Facebook fans)!” She added that they have been well known in Signal, and kids would chase after the fire truck or wave at them whenever they pass by.

But their families remain their biggest fans. Whenever Madelar laces up her boots, her boys would watch her with adoration. To them, it must be like watching Wonder Woman put on her superhero gear before going into battle. “My kids are proud of me.  Pag magre-responde ako, pini-picturan pa nila ako na nagbibihis at pino-post nila sa Facebook (Whenever I’m called to duty, they even take my picture while I get ready and post it on Facebook).” In a more solemn tone, Madelar continued. “They would tell me ‘Ingat ka lagi, Ma (Take care of yourself, Ma).’ I know they are used to what I do, but obviously they still worry.”

Normal citizens

Even in their uniforms, these female firefighters wear other hats. Most of them are mothers, while others are pursuing continuous education or exploring other career paths, sometimes with dreams of going abroad.

“We are on call 24/7 so our weekends are sacred to us,” said F02 Roca Belle Bangayan, 39. “Dun namin nakakasama pamilya namin, pati yung mga ibang interes namin dun lang namin sila nagagawa (That’s the only time we get to spend with our families, and do our other interests).”

It is also interesting to discover that firefighting was, in fact, not their first career choice. The squad is made up of registered nurses, teachers, military daughters, aspiring government officials, and others. “I was aiming for any government position, so I applied to the Bureau of Fire Protection,” said Chipay. “Before I knew it, I’ve been here for more than three years. I like it here.”

For F01 Delaila Parayno, 28, she was influenced by her older brother who applied to become a firefighter. Originally a teacher, Parayno traded her lecture books for a fire(wo)man’s axe. A lot of the women are also registered nurses. “The good thing about having plenty of nurses is that we can easily apply first aid. ‘Pag tumakbo kasi ang fire truck, kasunod niyan lagi ang ambulance (Once a fire truck is on the move, an ambulance is not far behind),” said Agustin.

Firefighting is not the only thing they do. A more important aspect of their job is fire prevention. Madelar and her squad go door-to-door in barangays to hand out flyers, and give lectures on how to prevent fires. “Kahit kaming firefighters, at the end of the day, gusto namin wala pa rin sunog (For us firefighters, our hope is to have no reports of fire at the end of the day),” said Madelar. “Pag may sunog, maraming umiiyak (When there is fire, everybody loses).” It doesn’t matter if they never hear the fire alarm; that just means all is well in Signal Village. But should the worst happen, residents can rest easy knowing that these Angels of Taguig are on their way.

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