When Lauren Olvera walked into the annual Calimesa Chamber of Commerce’s awards banquet last month, she thought she was attending a community event as a representative of the city’s fire department.
She soon discovered the evening held something else for her.
“People started coming up and congratulating me,” said Olvera, who was announced as the 2019 Firefighter of the Year at the banquet.
At first, she wasn’t sure why she was being congratulated. With her name on the program, however, the honor was clear.
“Lauren goes beyond the call of duty to help anyone and everyone when they need assistance,” Chief Jock Johnson said about why he chose Olvera for the award. “She always is the first one to offer help when it is needed.”
Olvera, who drives the engines and operates the pumps, began her journey as a firefighter in 2015, when she became a reserve with the Moreno Valley Fire Department.
The daughter of a firefighter, she became a reserve “to get my feet wet and see how I liked firefighting.”
Without hesitation, she said, “I loved it.”
Even though she already had a bachelor’s degree that she planned to use for coaching and teaching, Olvera decided to go back to school at the College of the Desert’s fire academy.
“I did things backwards,” she said, laughing.
Unable to get a full-time position after graduating from the academy, Olvera quit being a reserve because “I had to start paying bills.”
She went to work as an emergency medical technician for crude oil refineries in the Los Angeles area, while still applying for positions as a firefighter. In 2017, she was hired as a firefighter for the Calimesa Fire Department, which opened its doors on Jan. 1, 2018, but gathered its crew several months ahead to coordinate and train. The person who hired her was someone familiar, Chief Johnson whom she had worked with while a reserve in Moreno Valley.
Unfamiliar to Olvera was Calimesa.
“I had passed through multiple times,” she said of her travel between living and working in Los Angeles County and attending classes at College of the Desert in Palm Desert.
“You can miss it in a blink of an eye if you are not realizing where you are driving,” she said. After more than two years in Calimesa, that is no longer the case.
Olvera is the only female firefighter in Calimesa, but she said that’s not an issue.
“They treat me like everyone else,” she said. “I am like their big, little sister. I can’t complain about that. My crew is amazing.”
Eventually, Olvera wants to work her way to becoming a captain. Right now, however, she is focused on completing command classes to become an engineer, even though she continues to work part-time as an EMT with refineries.
“This,” she said, “is what I want to do as a career.”