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Latina Firefighter Loves Her Challenging But Rewarding Field

Firefighter Sarina Olmo of the FDNY's Engine 83 Ladder 29 in The Bronx, New York. FDNY

NEW YORK — Sarina Olmo does not have a typical job. But it's one she loves, and she encourages others to consider her challenging but rewarding field.

“We’re sort of a catch-all in terms of what we respond to," said Olmo, 38, who is a firefighter.

She has not only blasted blazes, but she has also helped deliver a baby boy.

"If we’re in the engine, we respond to medical emergencies. If we’re in the truck, we could be responding to car accidents, gas leaks, elevator emergencies and fires,” Olmo said to NBC Latino.

She will celebrate her 9-year anniversary with the Fire Department City of New York (FDNY) this summer. She works at the Engine 83 Ladder 29 station in the Bronx, where she is the only woman among her nearly 50 colleagues.

“It’s not a field you see too many women in," said the Latina firefighter and mother to a young son. She said it was intimidating at first, but she is not treated any differently because of her gender.

“I feel like I have an extended second family. I’m close with the guys at the firehouse. We do sports and activities and call on each other when there are hard times,” said Olmo.

Overall, there are 10,983 FDNY firefighters throughout the city. Of those, 1,173 are Hispanic male and female firefighters, according to department spokesperson Sophia H. Kim. Currently, the FDNY has budgeted to add several hundred firefighters to their ranks, and the exam for those interested opened last week.

The written exam, which costs $30, takes an average of four hours to complete and the rigorous and tough physical exam must be completed in 10 minutes and 20 seconds or under, Kim said.

In an FDNY video featuring her, Olmo said this training was incredibly challenging, not only physically but mentally. "I think I came out of it at the end a better person, and a better role model for my son. I think that's when it set in, 'Mom's a firefighter,'" she said.

After taking both exams, candidates must undergo a medical exam and background investigation. If all assessments are met, the candidate will enter the Fire Academy, also known as Probationary Firefighter School. It's an 18 week commitment to classroom learning and physical training, Kim said.

Olmo was raised in the same borough where she works — the Bronx — by her Puerto Rican parents. She began as an emergency medical technician (EMT) before she decided to take the exam and become a firefighter.

She trained for at least two years on her own time to be ready for the physical and academic components of the exam. She had to learn how fires affect building construction and how firefighters now are exposed to more dangerous chemicals from furniture in peoples’ homes than they were 100 years ago.

“Before (furniture) was good, wood products, now, it’s processed plastics. It’s more dangerous. You take precautions like using your breathing apparatus,” Olmo said.

Depending on the assignment, Olmo could easily carry up to 100 pounds of equipment, which is why she goes to the gym and runs three times a week to keep in shape.

“The job is physically demanding and mentally demanding. You have to put in hard work and dedication," she told NBC Latino. "Going to fires is not a walk in the park. It's scary; you'd have to be crazy to say it isn't. But if you rely on your training, it becomes second nature,” Olmo said.

“I always like giving back to my community and helping people. I’m not someone who gets nervous under pressure so it was a suitable career option for me.”

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