The Auburn Fire Department’s first female firefighter, Janeen Ruge, retired June 12 after 21 years on the job - 12 of them with the present-day Valley Regional Fire Authority. Courtesy photo

The Auburn Fire Department’s first female firefighter, Janeen Ruge, retired June 12 after 21 years on the job - 12 of them with the present-day Valley Regional Fire Authority. Courtesy photo

Auburn Fire Department’s first female firefighter retires after 21 years

In her 21 years with the Auburn Fire Department and Valley Regional Fire Authority, Janeen Ruge, Auburn’s first female firefighter, delivered at least five babies and calmed many frightened patients.

As a certified member of VRFA’s Technical Rescue Team, she plucked imperiled people from fast-moving waters, handled hazardous materials, and helped with structural collapses and rope rescues. She was a technical safety officer and an instructor for confined space rescue and rope rescue courses.

But working with her fellow crew members, Ruge said, now that was tops — nothing could beat it.

On June 12, having forged a path for others to follow and having passed along a wealth of knowledge, Ruge retired.

“The legacy I hope to have left for my crew is to always do the right thing, be good at your job, be comfortable with yourself and always proud of who you are,” said Ruge.

Fire Chief Brent Swearingen praised the special qualities Ruge brought to the job.

“Janeen is a leader and trailblazer in every aspect of her life,” Swearingen said. “While everyone knows that being a firefighter requires physical courage, Janeen also demonstrated the moral courage and tenacity needed to break into a male-dominated profession, and then to excel. She not only cleared a path for the women who followed her into the VRFA, she made everyone around her better.

“The contributions she made to the training and safety of her crews will be felt in the VRFA and the community for a generation. We thank her and wish her as much success in her retirement as she had in her career,” Swearingen added.

Ruge, who advanced to the rank of Captain and Acting Battalion Chief for today’s VRFA, said she was just doing her job. But those who worked with her and learned from her tell a different story.

“From the first day I started in this career, Janeen has been looking out for me,” said Captain Melina Kuzaro. “I know it wasn’t always easy for Janeen to be the first female hired, but her perseverance helped so many other females who have followed. Janeen has a passion for helping others, and she has made a difference in the fire service. Her generosity and positive attitude have impacted many. I feel privileged to have followed and worked alongside Janeen.”

Ruge mentored and trained new firefighters and acting captains, helped train more than 40 employees through her service on the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC), developed many components of written and practical tests used to evaluate the progress of new personnel, and was a test proctor.

A major focus of Ruge’s career was mentoring and training new firefighters and acting captains. The VRFA assisted with training over 40 employees through her service on the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC). Ruge developed many components of written and practical tests used to evaluate the progress of new personnel, and served as a test proctor.

“Captain Ruge has always been able to recognize the characteristics and strengths of to individual firefighters and use those to help facilitate learning and professional development. Her skill in individualizing instruction within a standardized program is evidence of the level of mastery that she has in her craft,” said Firefighter Drew Larson.

While Ruge has retired from the VRFA, she has not left the fire service altogether. She will continue as a volunteer firefighter and training captain for the Mineral Fire Department.


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