A local woman's experience as one of the first female Forest Service firefighters

GREEN VALLEY, Ariz. - Forty years ago, Forest Service fire crews were almost all men. That was, until one woman who now lives in Green Valley, became one of the first women to join.

Linda Strader didn't plan to be a pioneer. She just wanted to be a firefighter.

"Didn't give it a second thought whether or not I could do it, I just figured I could," Strader said. 

It was the mid-1970's, a woman on a fire crew was almost unheard of. 

Strader was the only woman on her Forest Service crew and one of the first to ever join the Forest Service. 

She says men on the crew told her she couldn't do the job and she didn't belong there.

"Told me to my face, 'Well, I think women belong barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.' 'And I was like, 'Oh, really?"

She says once, she asked the crew of 20 what they thought about her being there, and just three thought she could do the job.

"That was the first time that I realized, that it wasn't that they didn't like me, it was that they didn't want me there," Strader said. "They didn't think I belonged on the crew."

But that was her motivation. 

"I love my job. No one is going to make me quit. No man is going to make me quit."

Strader spent three summers in the Santa Rita mountains in 1976 through '78 before working for the Bureau of Land Management in Alaska. She spent some time in Colorado before returning to Tucson in 1982. That year, injuries forced her to end her career as a Catalina hotshot.

She says eventually, her relationships with the other firefighters improved, but she never shook the feeling they didn't want her there. 

Forty years after her fight for respect, Strader still says this was the best job she's ever had. 

"It's definitely a lifetime bond. In all of my jobs that I've had since then, I have never felt that way," Strader said.

In May, Strader published 'Summers of Fire' that details her experiences. 

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