Rio Rancho’s new fire marshal hopes promotion will inspire others

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Jessica Duron-Martinez is Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue’s first female fire marshal. (Gregory Hasman/Observer)

It’s exciting that this opportunity has presented itself and I’m making history in Rio Rancho — Jessica Duron-Martinez

Jessica Duron-Martinez isn’t the tallest member of Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue at 5-foot-one.

But it’s not the size of a person that counts. It is their heart. It is their courage and determination to overcome obstacles and make dreams come true.

In about 25 years, Duron-Martinez, 42, has gone from being a teenage single mother dreaming of becoming a firefighter to being named the first female fire marshal to don the uniform at Fire and Rescue. Rio Rancho was incorporated as a city in 1981.

“It’s exciting that this opportunity is here and that I’m making history in Rio Rancho,” she said, adding that she hopes other women will see what she’s accomplished and consider ” an opportunity they might not have thought of.”

“Courageous and determined”

Duron-Martinez was an Albuquerque high school student and new Rio Rancho resident when she got a job at Kirtland Air Force Base as an accounting assistant.

However, whenever she had the chance, she watched the firefighters practice or perform other tasks from outside the office. She knew then that this was the career she wanted to pursue even as she raised a daughter she had at 17.

Duron-Martinez once told the fire chief at Kirtland AFB that she would like to work towards becoming a firefighter, but he told her he was apprehensive about the idea because of her stature and gender. He added that the department was looking for a dispatcher and suggested that he apply. She did it.

“I was okay with that,” she said. “I wanted to put my foot in the door.”

Over the next two years, she earned her HAZMAT certification and her Emergency Medical Technician license.

“At that point they knew I was serious,” Duron-Martinez said.

The fire chief told him to apply to the Louis F. Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy in San Angelo, Texas.

“It was fine with me, (but) the hardest part was leaving my (four-year-old) daughter there,” she said.

After graduating from the academy, Duron-Martinez became a firefighter. She was able to drive the trucks and respond to various emergencies.

But work has a cost.

She worked around the clock every other day for five years, which she admitted was “quite taxing being a single mother”.

Reyna Trujillo, Duron-Martinez’s daughter, now 22, only saw her mother a few times a week. The rest of the time, Reyna stayed with her grandmother.

“She was always very strong and brave and determined (and) tried to make sure she could support me in the best way possible,” Trujillo said.

‘Without hesitation’

In 2009, Duron-Martinez got married and applied for a job with Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue.

While she had plenty of experience, Fire and Rescue Acting Fire Chief James DeFillippo said: “We didn’t know much about her, but she quickly showed her work ethic, her dynamism, his motivation to give priority to service.”

Duron-Martinez held various roles ranging from fire inspector to lieutenant where she started a fire prevention program consisting of eight firefighters. She also got involved in other facets of Fire and Rescue, including its fitness and peer support programs, doing whatever it took to be successful and help others.

It doesn’t matter if someone in the department is male or female, both have to work equally hard, Duron-Martinez said.

In 2018, she took another career step, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Fire Administration from Columbia Southern University. When the fire marshal position opened last fall, she was ready.

The ministry asked her to fill in temporarily until they found a long-term solution, but it turned out that she was the answer all along.

Duron-Martinez was hired full-time a few months later.

“We had firefighters in Bernalillo County, Santa Fe County, who helped oversee the test and they said nothing but great things about his knowledge of fire code, building code “, said DeFillippo. “Without hesitation, she was the right person for the job. She happens to be female, but she got the job done and is the person I definitely support as Fire Marshal.

Including Duron-Martinez, there are nine female career firefighters in Fire and Rescue out of 104 people, or 8.65% of the department. Of 358,000 career firefighters in the United States, just 4.2%, or 14,900, were women in 2019, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

“The women were supportive and very happy for me,” Duron-Martinez said. “I got texts, calls and hugs which meant a lot. All of the women I work with are amazing and they inspire me.

Some of Duron-Martinez’s goals with Fire and Rescue include expanding his department and eventually moving up the ranks. But in the meantime, she plans to enjoy every working day.

“They say, ‘When you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life again,'” she said. “This is how I feel.”

Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue Fire Marshal Jessica Duron-Martinez, right, poses with her daughter, Reyna Trujillo during a volunteer event in 2017. (Reyna Trujillo Photo)

pay ahead

Trujillo is proud of her mother’s accomplishments.

“She worked really hard to get to this position,” Trujillo said. “I am happy that she is fulfilling one of her dreams.”

Of her daughter, Duron-Martinez said, “She is the reason for what I do and accomplish. I want to show her and all the young girls that you can do anything.

One of those girls is Rio Rancho High School senior Haley Smith.

In April 2021, Duron-Martinez was training at Defined Fitness wearing a Fire and Rescue t-shirt when Smith asked her if she was a firefighter.

“(I thought) about joining the fire department a few years ago and was looking for someone to guide me,” Smith said.

The two have exchanged contact details and hang out at the gym at least once a week.

“I’m teaching her the physical and mental aspects, (helping her) understand all aspects of firefighting so she’ll be ready when she applies next year,” Duron-Martinez said.

In addition to finishing high school, Smith is working toward an associate’s degree in fire service at Central New Mexico Community College. However, she will have to wait a year to apply to the New Mexico State Fire Academy in Socorro, as the application deadline ends before her 18th birthday.

But Smith won’t let that deter her from pursuing her dream.

“We will start training for the interviews and continue to improve my physical condition (level) to where it needs to be,” she said. “I’m going to get my basic EMT license and apply for next year’s academy.”

Like Smith, Duron-Martinez is looking to take the next step in his career. She said she was going to pursue a master’s degree.

“I believe knowledge is power and the more we learn the more we are able to teach,” she said. “As Maya Angelou would say, ‘When you learn, teach, when you get, give.’

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