Trista Latoya Walker is a 34-year-old firefighter for the Austin Fire Department. She studied exercise and sports science at college in Abilene toward the goal of becoming a personal trainer, and joined the Army after graduation to utilize the military’s school loan repayment program. She served three years on active duty, including nine months in Iraq. After returning to the States, she worked as a personal trainer before joining the fire department in January 2012.
“I do [Brazilian] jiu-jitsu at a gym where a couple of firefighters were talking about their jobs and I thought, ‘Man, that’s just something that better suits me.’ [Being a personal trainer] was always a real hustle. You have to always try to reel in new clients, come up with new stuff. I just wanted something more stable.
“The application process lasted a year. The cadet academy lasts six months. It’s pretty grueling. We would drag tires, run up stairs with a 25-pound hose bundle. A lot of running, a lot of towers and tires, working with sledgehammers. Thankfully I enjoy reading and academics because I’d have to read and study at night. The entire time I was in the academy I told my friends, ‘Hey you’re probably not going to see me for awhile.’
“We work 24 hours on, 48 off. I do my normal morning checks, enter everything in the computer. If I’m up to cook then I’ll usually start preparing to cook, and if I’m not then I’m in the books studying. We’re not required to work out while at work, but because our job is so physically demanding everyone usually works out.
Latoya trains at a mixed martial arts academy in Austin, TX.
“Being in training for jiu-jitsu has really helped me with the firefighting. I felt that I was prepared as a woman, especially on the physical side. The [firefighting] suits weigh around 70 pounds. You’re having to do the exact same thing your male counterparts are, so they all know we’re capable of doing our job. If we weren’t then we wouldn’t have made it through academy and be assigned to our stations.
“My days off usually start around 4:30 in the morning. I try to run about three to five miles. I come home and walk the dogs. I work part-time at LBJ Fire Academy from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then I’m in my jiu-jitsu gym from noon until sometimes 1:30 p.m. From there I go to my boxing gym until about 5:30 p.m. After that I usually take my dogs to the park to get some exercise, then rest up, cook dinner, clean and do some studying before going to bed. My days are super-busy.
“My funniest call was to get a cat out of a tree. I was still on probation [as a new hire] and the call came around midnight. We get there and the lady says, ‘My cat is stuck up in a tree.’ Everyone looks at me like, ‘You’re the probie. Go get the ladder because you’re going up.’ They took a few photos and sent them to my captain and said, ‘Your probie’s working hard!’ The cat was nice. It didn’t even scratch me.
“We get more medical calls than we get fires. On my first call out I was excited and nervous and afraid of making a mistake. It had been drizzling so the roads were really slick, and you feel for the people that are in these accidents. It was a traffic accident and the woman was pinned in. I was on the engine and one of my buddies I was in the academy with was on the ladder, so he was in charge of cutting the door open. I was in the car doing the initial patient care, talking to her and trying to relax her while the ladder went through the process of removing the door in order to get her out of the vehicle.
“I love it because I feel I have a purpose other than serving myself. A lot of times when we respond it’s that person’s worst day, and we’re there to do whatever we can do to make them feel better.”
Interview has been edited and condensed.