Algeciras Fire Dept: The New Generation of Firewomen

Rosario Pérez · Photos: Fran Montes

Sara Cantalapiedra at the Algeciras Fire Station @Fran Montes

Laura Ordóñez and Sara Cantalapiedra are two of three women at the Algeciras Fire Department, and of 11 in the entire province of Cadiz.

“Despite the challenges, this is the best job in the world”

Of the 400 firefighters in the province of Cadiz, 11 are women: 4 at the station of Cádiz city, 4 in Jerez and 3 in Algeciras.

Laura Ordóñez and Sara Cantalapiedra are, along with veteran Lourdes González, two of the three firefighters of the Algeciras department, which consists of 50 officers, and they were both delighted to share their stories and highlight the fact that, despite its difficulties, theirs is “the best job in the world.”

Laura Ordóñez Algeciras Fire Station
Laura Ordóñez

This year, Sara Cantalapiedra, the youngest of the three, not only celebrated her first Women’s Day at the Algeciras Fire Department (which she joined on March 15th, 2018), but also her first firefighter’s patron saint day which, interestingly, is also celebrated on March 8th. This year she was on duty on the 8th of March.

Following nine years of trying to pass the civil service examinations which, in times of crisis, rarely came about, Cantalapiedra is happy to have landed her first assignment here, with a “very rewarding” day to day work experience that has everything except routine, and companions who have warmly welcomed her into the fold.

This Algeciras fire department junior discovered her vocation when she made her decision to leave an office job which was getting more and more hard to take.

Sara Cantalapiedra at the Algeciras Fire Station @Fran Montes

“I’m a very active and dynamic person and seeing myself sitting at a desk all day was overwhelming. I looked into other options and this looked like the best because it combined some of the things that motivate me most: sports, action and helping others.”

When she’s not out on call, Cantalapiedra trains and studies to keep improving and is working towards obtaining a permanent position as her colleague, Laura Ordoñez, did in 2014.

Ordoñez joined the department in 2003, initially on a voluntary basis – after a further educational course in Physical Education which included her supervising one of the physical tests set for firefighters –and eventually, professionally.

Laura Ordóñez Algeciras Fire Station

Ordóñez says that, when she started more than 15 years ago, she was met with some misogynist attitudes by veteran colleagues, who are now retired, but also some of the members of the public that they were there to help.

“Fortunately, for a while now things have been changing a lot, and it shows, especially among younger people, like Sara and other colleagues who have been recruited in recent years.”

Laura Ordóñez, who spent March the 8th giving a talk to a school, is convinced that, “education is a fundamental tool that will keep our society evolving” and agrees with her colleague when it comes to the importance of highlighting the fact that women can also thrive in traditionally ‘male professions’ and sectors such as theirs, without losing sight of the fact that this job has its challenges, and one must be trained physically as well as mentally.

Sara Cantalapiedra at the Algeciras Fire Station @Fran Montes

“These days, women can be whatever we want to be, and I encourage all girls who want to try becoming a firefighter to do so…Keeping in mind, of course, that it’s not easy; I had to fight hard to become a firefighter and, even though people think I’m naturally in great physical shape, that’s not true: I’m strong now because I trained a lot, and I still do,” Sara Cantalapiedra explains and admits that the most difficult part of the physical test for her was climbing ropes.

Sara Cantalapiedra at the Algeciras Fire Station @Fran Montes

“It was hard, but with determination and strength you can achieve anything in life and, in this work, as in others, you need to be a good professional, and that is a word that has no genders”.

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