Girl on Fire: Nikki Stowe

Nikki Stowe graduated college in 2000 with a B.S. in Kinesiology and experienced what many of us feel after entering the “real world” — lost, without any true direction.

But one thing she did know was that she was born to be a part of something more.

Fate intervened and one day she came across a friend who worked for the local fire department in her home of Auburn, California. He praised the job, his eyes lighting up as he talked about its excitement, challenges, and the crew that had become like family.

A fire was sparked within Nikki and she entered a three-month Reserve Program through Placer Consolidated Fire in California.

“After the program completion, I became a Reserve Firefighter and was paid per diem,” Nikki said. “That was the beginning of my fire career, but I still had questions and wanted to know more.” 

About the time she became a Reserve Firefighter, Nikki also obtained her EMT basic license, and followed it up with a 24-week para-militaristic fire academy where she thrived in the disciplined environment. Her passion grew alongside her skillset, and then something happened that would change Nikki and the course of America, forever.

9/11.

“Those few weeks of watching the news and talking about what had happened at ground zero impacted my viewpoint. My journey and path became even more apparent and validated,” Nikki recalls. “It was during that moment in my life that an awareness blossomed. The physical and mental challenges that the academy provided and the successful response that I had, highlighted in bold print my calling and purpose in life.”

That was only the beginning. Her determination to be that something more was fueled by her personal motivation to grow…and by the entrance of two very special people.

Her husband and daughter.

After a year as a firefighter paramedic at East Fork Fire, Nikki met Austin, a firefighter and paramedic for Carson City Fire. He became her biggest cheerleader and number one fan, but it wasn’t until the birth of their daughter that Nikki found her true source of inspiration. Once again, the way she viewed life changed. The awareness of the role she would play in her daughter’s life burned hot, and the lessons she wanted to pass on were clear.

“I wanted my daughter to see that life can be hard and challenging and that it’s okay.  I wanted her to have the confidence to step up to challenges and follow her dreams,” says Nikki.  “I wanted her to rise and embrace life, knowing that it was okay to step out of her comfort zone.” 

“I have led my life knowing that my actions show her not to be afraid of life and its challenges,” she continues. “To pick a path that pushes her and makes her happy.”

Nikki certainly knows about challenges.

Once she graduated from the academy and qualified to be an entry-level firefighter, it became her mission to get picked up by an all-risk department. She traveled countless miles. Took test after test. Endured multiple assessments. Went on one interview after another. From Sacramento Metro Fire, Oakland Fire, Davis Fire, Monrovia Fire, and more, Nikki longed to finally get a yes.

But she heard no after no.

Nikki pushed on, asking what she could do to become the person they needed. It was clear she had potential, but it wasn’t enough. She discovered that while she was qualified to be a firefighter, they really needed a candidate with more advanced EMS certifications, specifically speaking, a Paramedic License. 

“It was roughly 2001, and the times were changing,” says Nikki. “Departments wanted to provide a better service to their community. They wanted ALS (advanced life support) Engines and to have their members able to provide better medical care.”

Nikki got to work and earned her NREMT Paramedic Certificate through Truckee Meadows College Paramedic Program. And after her paramedic internship with East Fork Fire, she finally got the “yes” she was searching for and was hired as a Firefighter Paramedic. 

Nikki spent nine years with “The Fork” and built up her resume of calls ranging from EMS, structure and wildland fires to the ones you just can’t make up. She loved her time with her crew and the experience she received, but in 2016 she decided it was time to step out of her comfort zone and take herself to the next level, personally and professionally. She moved over to Truckee Meadows Fire as a firefighter paramedic and hasn’t looked back.

“Truckee Meadows Fire has positively pushed me in a way that I could never have envisioned,” says Nikki. “The support and opportunities have been endless, and every day I am learning and growing.”

Since her transition, Nikki has been promoted to fire engineer operator, where she has sat in the driver’s seat for two years. As an engineer, Nikki has to know the rig better than anybody.  She is responsible for getting her crew to and from the scene safely, and ensuring the scene is as safe as possible. She also acts as a liaison between the crew and the captain, keeping her finger on the pulse of her brothers and sisters. And while Nikki is the first ever woman engineer for Truckee Meadows, she doesn’t want that to be her claim to fame.

“I knew that being a female in the fire service would be a continuous and arduous road. Never once had I, nor do I use the concept of being a female in the fire service as an excuse or as a form of recognition to been given special treatment,” says Nikki. “My stance is this: either you can do the job or you can’t. Period. It doesn’t matter what color or gender you are; only if you’re capable of doing the job and can fold into the lifestyle or not.” 

Nikki has her eyes on being called captain soon and knows that she has what it takes to fill the role. She also knows, however, that as a female she may be held to higher standards by her peers and supervisors. This only makes her work harder to keep her knowledge, skills and abilities on point.

“I want to earn respect from my brethren through my dependability, time on the job, and essentially, letting my work ethic and assimilation into the house do the talking,” she says. “If there is anything that female and even male firefighters can take home, I hope it’s this: be the best you!  Always strive to better yourself in every facet of your life. Improve yourself professionally, determine your goals, prioritize your efforts and execute.”