The city of Ashland’s first woman fire marshal steps down this week. Thirteen and a half years after joining Ashland Fire & Rescue, Margueritte Hickman is retiring. “I’m hoping my success paves the way and inspires others,” said Hickman of her position as AFR fire marshal and division chief and as an instructor at Rogue Community College. “I’ve had a couple of students who have said, I want to do what you’re doing,” she said. Hickman plans on continuing as a part-time instructor.
Her career in fire fighting was not a straight line. Armed with a degree and an interest in marketing and international fashion, Hickman thought she’d be working in that field until she got a call to do some summer dispatch work with the Klamath Fire District and the Department of Forestry. She jokes about the irony of going from wanting to work in fashion to becoming a fire fighter and marshal. “Maybe someone though I wasn’t good at fashion so they put me in a uniform my whole career,” she joked.
Hickman says she didn’t have a specific plan for her career but to continue growing. That’s when she first became exposed to the idea of being a fire marshal. When she asked one of her supervisors about that as a possible track she wasn’t sure. “I asked a chief, can I do that because I’m a girl? He said, 'of course.'" That was during Hickman’s fourth year in the Department of Forestry.
“There have been some challenges, but I’ve been lucky,” Hickman says, noting that in the State of Oregon there are fewer than half a dozen women in her position.
The city of Portland appointed a woman to fire chief in 2012, years after the department was sued for reverse discrimination due to Erin Janssen’s quick rise through the ranks, prior to becoming chief. Now she is recognized as earning her promotions.
But Hickman hasn’t been successful to make any sort of point, she just followed her passion. “First of all it’s important for all of us that we do what we want to do. I think for most of us (women fire marshals), we’ve done it because we wanted to,” says Hickman. “Also, it’s important to do something you’re good at.”
Her successor has not yet been identified. There is no obvious candidate in the ranks since a background as an inspector needs to come first. The fire marshal is the person who determines causes of fires, who inspects buildings for safety, who monitors public events and issues permits and acts as the public information officer. The city of Ashland is looking for someone who has experience in these areas. “Traditionally people move up the ranks but we don’t have a fire inspector," said Hickman. "We lost that position in 2007.”
Meantime, Hickman will be taking it easy while deciding what’s next for her. “I’ll still be teaching at RCC, maybe do some consulting, but I don’t expect that to consume my life," she said. "I’ll have more time to give back. I still plan to be with the Rotary Club of Ashland — we do a lot of good here in this community.”
Hickman admits it’ll be hard to replace some of the incredible memories and people she’s encountered in Ashland. “One time I had to issue a fire dancing permit. I didn’t know anything about it back then when we used to have performers on the Plaza. it was a very unique thing,” she says wistfully of the opportunity to interact with a variety of people. “I met people who very different from others. I’ll miss the people, learning what they do. I like to hear their stories and develop relationships.”
Hickman spent her entire career in Southern Oregon. “It’s truly the people I’ve been so blessed to meet throughout my career. When I started in forestry I spent most of my time talking to loggers and native chiefs,” says Hickman, who tears up a bit while thinking of not having the day-to-day opportunity to be in the community in the same way.
“I’ve had opportunities to meet people in all walks of life," she concludes. "I’m so grateful.”
Hickman’s last day on the job as the Ashland’s fire marshall is Thursday, June 29.
—Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.