Lindsey will start her role in mid-January, replacing retired chief Erik Litzenberg
Isabella Alves, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
Jan. 3–As a former Olympian, Jackie Lindsey, 46, is used to making a name for herself. The camaraderie and teamwork she found on her softball team is also something she found in the fire service.
Now, she’ll continue her career as the first female Santa Fe County fire chief. She’ll start her role in mid-January, replacing retired chief Erik Litzenberg.
When Lindsey first accepted the position, she didn’t know she would be setting this milestone. She simply wanted to continue serving her community in the way she knew best – through the fire department. Lindsey was a member of the Canadian National Softball team and competed from 1997 to 2005. She said she found several similarities between softball and fire fighting, such as the friendships formed.
“I just really am not finished contributing to our community. I really believe in service and community, for me, has meant the world,” she said. “It saved my life as a young teenager when I got off track, but I had a community that surrounded me and pulled me back up. Without that, I don’t know where I’d be today.”
Since she graduated from the University of New Mexico, Lindsey had been a firefighter. She was a firefighter for the city of Albuquerque before she went on to study at the Naval Postgraduate School. She later served as the New Mexico Cabinet secretary of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and is currently on the FEMA National Advisory Council.
She said she’s found her home in the fire service and she loves it. She said she never sought to be the first female chief, but just decided to pursue her passions.
“It is important to society, more than ever before, for our young women, and girls, to see that there are no boundaries,” she said. “And you do everything you can to get that – you’re going to run into obstacles, but every person that’s tried to achieve something is running into obstacles. So, I think don’t let it be an obstacle.”
Anna Hamilton, Santa Fe County Commissioner for district 4 and a volunteer firefighter, said she looks forward to having Lindsey as chief and said she has the potential to make good, strong contributions to the county.
“I think it speaks well to our progress to have women in what have been traditional male roles,” Hamilton said. “I’ve always been impressed at how Santa Fe County is a fair leader in that regard.”
Nationwide, women represent about 4% of firefighters, Lindsey said. In Santa Fe County, it’s a little higher, at 6%, but it’s still a “hard nut to crack.” Lindsey said she would like to see more representation in every demographic in the fire service.
“There are so many qualified women right now moving up in all industries,” Lindsey said. “We see it in our vice president (elect). We’re seeing it in representation in Washington in the House of Representatives, in the Senate, in mayors, I mean, there are qualified women moving up all over the place.”
Glen Woodbury, Center for Homeland Defense and Security director at the Naval Postgraduate School, said Lindsey has always been a leader. She was awarded several leadership awards while at the school, and he said Lindsey’s positive energy really impressed him.
“I have a feeling that throughout her career in her life, she’s always been recognized as the positive leader, the energetic leader that people just want to follow,” he said. “I just can’t imagine her being anything other than who she’s been her whole life, which is a passionate leader that people just want to be with and to follow.”
Every agency has its issues, Woodbury said. If those exist in the fire department, Lindsey will bring people together to solve them, at the same time creating opportunities that might not have existed before.
Lindsey said the bottom line as fire chief is to ensure that every firefighter gets home safely. She said it’s making sure firefighters have the right equipment, right training and right support personnel to make that happen. She said she wants to identify any gaps in these areas and fill them.
“I think that’s important for a fire chief’s position, or for any leaders, to just really want to help elevate the people that they work for,” she said. “And, quite honestly, it’s not the other way around. As a fire chief, I work for my staff, I work for my personnel, and so, working for them and ensuring we get them what they need, that is absolutely critical.”
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