As Women’s History Month winds down, the Frontline Blog speaks with New Mexico Professional Fire Fighters Association president Emily Kane about her thoughts on fire fighting, leadership and the challenges facing the fire profession today.
Kane, a 20 plus year veteran, is the only female state president of an IAFF fire union. This season, she joined several other labor unions in New Mexico to fight against legislation that would have barred dues deduction. The groups were able to get the legislation shelved this legislative session.
But there are other issues on the horizon.
As a leader, Kane finds it is important to find common ground with others. To her that means, to stop and listen to what others have to say and find ways to empower the people around her so they feel a part of the team.
“I am truly respectful of others and believe that I can learn from other people’s viewpoints,” Kane said. “So it is really important to listen and to be at a place where I can say I can learn from that.”
The best thing about being a fire fighter is that no day is the same, she said. And this winter was really memorable because of a 24-hour shift where dispatchers handled 400 calls dealing with wet building conditions.
“This was trial by water,” Kane said.
As a female fire fighter, Kane learned it is important to have colleagues who believe in her ability. Early in her career, Kane partnered with a well-respected leader in the fire house. When she showed him that she was a hard worker that made a difference with her partner and in turn the message reached other fire fighters, she said.
“They learned that I wasn’t so bad to work with after all,” she joked.
The New Mexico state fire fighters union was founded in 1996.
It was around 2002, former U. S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced his plans to run for governor of New Mexico. Kane, then a local president, started calling other local presidents in the state to back Richardson because of his positions on fire fighter issues. At the time there were 16 locals in the state.
During those calls she learned that fire locals were seeking information and other advice about how to handle the issues that affected their members.
Kane said she stepped into the state leadership role because it was needed (the former president had been injured and was not able to conduct meetings) and she has served as state president since 2002.
Her early support of Richardson also proved fortuitous.
Richardson never forgot fire fighters in New Mexico. Kane developed a good working relationship with the former governor and was appointed to several state boards.
Along the way, Kane has learned a lot of things about herself personally and professionally.
She’s a very goal-oriented person and as a leader you always need a good, smart team to have your back, she said.
“It is nice to work collaboratively and to have a group of people to come back to and discuss ideas.”
Fire fighting has turned out to be a good career choice for Kane. Originally she set out for a position in paramedicine because she wanted flexibility and time to spend with her children. Things changed when she found a union position and discovered that the fire fighters in her Local would also become her family too, she said.
With public employees and labor unions under attack today, Kane believes it is important for fire fighters to take the high road and to push our message to the general public that we are not the enemy when it comes to state budgets, pensions, etc.
“We need to really stand together to ward off these attacks because we can’t let this demobilize us,” she said.