Jeanne Power puts out fires with the best

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— Jeanne Power did many things she liked to do before she found one thing she loved to do.

Power, a paramedic and firefighter with the city of Steamboat Springs, has flirted with several professions.

After graduating from the University of Wyoming, the Steamboat native returned and coached basketball, taught high school biology, assisted special-needs students and worked at a day-care center.

Then she decided to take an EMT course.

"The rest is history," Power said.

The first day of EMT training introduced her to a line of work she had never considered.What began as a distraction now fully commands her attention.

Power was hired full time with the Steamboat Springs Fire Department in January 2001. It was a dream realized. But realization did not come without years of preparation.

Power did not let her EMT certification idle for long. She joined Routt County Search and Rescue and put her new skills to use during the winter on Mount Werner.

"It was a way to get my foot in the door," she said.

She later became a paid volunteer with Steamboat Springs Ambulance and received more advanced training in emergency medical response.

Five years ago, she joined the fire department. Today, she is still outnumbered by her male counterparts.

While a few women are training to become firefighters, none is active with the department.

"I've never thought much about it, really," Power said of being the only active female firefighter.

She fills her role the best she can, she said, and gets nothing but support and camaraderie from her extended family.

Power grew up with sisters.

"Now I have brothers," she said.

Power admits she is her biggest critic.

"Jeanne is very dedicated to the department," co-worker Scott Ryan said. "She cares a lot. Sometimes she cares too much."

Ryan, an EMT and a full-time firefighter, met Power the first day of firefighter training. They became active with the fire department in 1998 and have been friends ever since.

Ryan, who is originally from Chicago, said Power brings a different dynamic to the department because she was born and grew up in Steamboat Springs.

"When I go out on a call, chances are I won't know the people," he said. "Chances are, she will."

Power attended Soda Creek Elementary and Steamboat Springs High School, where she played basketball.

Most of her family has since moved away, but many friends, mentors and neighbors are still here.

A connection to so many people in Steamboat is cause for some anxiety, but that connection also gives some assurance to the people Power responds to. Her familiar face is a welcome sight for patients in a medical emergency, EMS battalion chief Mel Stewart said.

"It brings a level of comfort to them," he said.

Power graduated from paramedic school in 1999. Brian Shively, a full-time paramedic and firefighter with the city, attended the same six-month training session in Denver with her.

"She's just a very good paramedic," he said. "She does her job very well."

Shively is one of several people who grew up with Power and now works with her. It's that small-town aspect of the fire department that Power appreciates. Everyone knows his or her role and does it well, she said.

"The people who are here really want to be here," she said. And they sacrifice time and family for the department, she said.

Power and her husband, Fred, celebrated their third wedding anniversary Sept. 11. She knows the value of making the most of the time with her spouse. He understands how deeply his wife cares about her job and has no qualms with their sometimes out-of-sync schedules.

Jeanne Power describes her husband as the "spouse of a pager person." That means he has had his share of hearing a familiar buzzing sound in the middle of the night, in the middle of a meal, in the middle of a holiday, in the middle of a date.

"In the middle of everything," she said.

The pager does not sound so often now that Power works predetermined hours. So the two take advantage of their limited time together. It might mean a day up on the mountain during ski season or a hike with their black Lab, Payton.

Fred Power knows his wife is a special woman. "I am unbelievably proud of her."

Jeanne Power never had any intention of being a firefighter or a paramedic. She called herself a tomboy growing up, but the possibility of a future in protecting the lives of others never crossed her mind.

In college she studied microbiology with thoughts of pursuing medical school and left with a teaching certificate.

She hopes girls do not write off a career in public safety when they see so many men in the field. She would like them to discover the same satisfaction she found in what she does.

Even though she is the only woman in the department, Power still allows herself to be, well, girly. She easily erupts into giggles at another firefighter's antics, her curly ponytail bouncing as she laughs. And she carries a pink flashlight with her when she responds to a fire call.

"It's pink, so no one ever takes it," she said with a grin.

Ten years in public safety has not diluted Power's passion for her work.

"This is the longest I've ever done something," she said.

The demands of the job continue to hold her interest, and the people she works alongside are exceptional individuals, she said.

"It's a close-knit group in a high-stress environment," she said.

People ask Power if she would ever consider leaving her hometown and her extended family. She tells them she probably won't.

It's not because she's too comfortable in her environment. It isn't that leaving would stretch her in ways she doesn't want to be stretched. Those aren't good enough reasons to stay.

"There are reasons to go," Power said. "But there are so many more reasons to stay."

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