Meet the East Bay fire captain and McCloud resident charting way for women in male-dominated field

Shareen Strauss
Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers
Fire Capt. Heather Marques of the Alameda County Fire Department in the East Bay is a McCloud resident who sometimes volunteers her time with the community's fire department. She graduated in September 2021 from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.

East Bay Fire Capt. and McCloud resident Heather Marques is a real standout in her industry.

Besides her dual role as fire captain and paramedic for the Alameda County Fire Department, she trains future firefighters, serves at the California State Office of Emergency Services and has leadership roles in different statewide organizations.

As time allows since arriving with her family in 2020 to the area, she also volunteers at the McCloud Fire Department.

And if that weren't enough, last month she earned her master's degree from the prestigious Naval Postgraduate School operated by the U.S. Navy in Monterey in the Central Coast.

Marques could be making inroads for other women to follow. For her thesis, she wrote about women in the fire service, "Working Fire: Recruitment, Retention, and Retirement of Women Firefighters." 

Women firefighters are still relatively rare in most fire departments in the United States. Only 4% of career firefighters are women, while among volunteer firefighters, women account for 11%.

The school can select applicants from the FBI, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and firefighting agencies because they are the first level of U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Out of 10,000 applications it receives annually, only 1% are accepted.

The 18-month program started with 38 students and finished with 22 graduates, including Marques. Nearly half of the cohorts withdrew due to professional commitments during the 2020-21 coronavirus pandemic, as well as the antiracism protests that swept the United States, wildfires in the West and other natural disasters.

Marques brings her background in anthropology and public service to the rural fire department. She is hopeful that she will be able to lend her expertise in emergency and disaster response to the Siskiyou County community.

"Taking care of our people to take care of other people is my goal," she said.

Already, she's staffed the rig during the Antelope Fire that burned northeast of Mount Shasta and McCloud, and she attends public meetings and community events.

Marques splits her time between Alameda and Siskiyou counties. She is an engine company officer with the Alameda County Fire Department, which covers 739 square miles and provides fire suppression, emergency medical services, fire prevention and public education. 

She also specializes in water rescues, hazardous materials response, technical rescue, as well as structural and wildland firefighting, which is what McCloud Fire Department needs. 

Marques also is trained as hazmat specialist, is a confined space rescue technician, and teaches at a fire academy as a Office of the State Fire Marshal-certified instructor and is lead skills evaluator at CalOES.

She works as an engine company officer and rescue boat captain on the San Francisco Bay and is a member of the East Bay Incident Management Team, a type 3 regional team. Additionally, she serves on the California State Fire Association (CSFA) Leadership, Equity, Diversity and Service committee.