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Donna Allenbaugh: pioneer of women firefighters

by Brian Manning

Donna Allenbaugh of Walsenburg, is a retired fire lieutenant from Boulder. She is pictured above in action. Courtesy photo

WALSENBURG — Donna Allenbaugh is a retired fire lieutenant from Boulder, Colorado, currently living in Walsenburg. She became a firefighter in 1979 at a time when there were only a few women in the fire service and was only the third woman to be hired in the Boulder fire department.

She was not chosen the first time she applied and had to wait two years for the next test when she had to compete with 900 other candidates. To qualify, she had to take a written test, a comprehensive physical and agility test, and interview with fire officers. In order to better her chances, she became an emergency medical technician. All firefighters are currently certified EMTs since they always respond to medical calls because they can be there before the ambulance.

Allenbaugh was in her thirties when she took the job. She believes that was good because she was more mature and better prepared to put up with the antics of other firefighters who weren’t sure women belonged in the fire department. The fire houses had no bathroom facilities for the women, so they had to share, which made things very awkward. The bunkrooms were separated only by blankets, so there was very little privacy. Training was done on the job since this was before they had a training center.

Allenbaugh advanced to become an engineer of the apparatus, which meant she was an expert on operating the pumpers and related equipment. This was her first promotion, of the many that led her to being a lieutenant. As lieutenant, she was responsible for a an engine crew, and as a new officer, she rotated between six fire houses.

In addition to fighting fires, they had many other duties including fire inspections for all commercial buildings, wind mitigation, hydrant maintenance and testing, dive team, and routine maintenance around the firehouse.

During her career, she he has always had to prove herself, to earn respect and put up with jokes and pranks, which she always handled well. When she retired, there were nine women on the job, so they still have a long way to go.

Allenbaugh is very athletic. She would run to and from the firehouse to keep in shape, a habit she’s kept up by participating in ultra-marathons up to 100 miles long. She is an accomplished runner and mountain climber, a member of the Colorado Mountain Club, and has climbed more than 300 mountains some in Bolivia and Ecuador. One mountain was 21,500 feet in elevation.

In addition to her physical talents she has BA Degree in English Literature. She is a true pioneer in the fire service and has helped pave the way for other women.

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