Photo by Jody Zorn Photography

Ingrid Lechner is retiring as a Louisville firefighter, but her work for the community is far from over.

By Julie Kailus

 

Ingrid Lechner already had quite a bit on her plate as a single mom and full-time middle school teacher when she decided to take up a little side gig eight years ago as a firefighter for the Louisville Fire Department.

To become a full-fledged firefighter, Lechner had to train for physical agility and get her Firefighter 1, HAZ-MAT and EMT certifications—all while working full time as a teacher, running a 12- to 14-hour shift at the fire station every week and attending public events like Touch A Truck. “I had my yoga strength,” she laughs, “but it took me a year to get the muscle mass for fighting fires.”

Her three boys encouraged their mom to pursue her newfound passion, and her parents’ babysitting was a huge help. “The fire academy was Wednesday nights from 6 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” she says. “I did talk with my young sons before I took this on because they were going to have to give up a lot of mom time.”

Her passion has proven inspirational. One son is now a wildland firefighter in Oregon. And as a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade language arts teacher at Boulder Universal Online School, Lechner urges kids who show promise to consider emergency services work. “I tell them, ‘You can do this, and you don’t have to have an A in science,’” she says.

She’s hoping more teenagers who enjoy being outdoors will consider structure and wildland firefighting as a career. “And when local girls say, ‘Hey, look, it’s a female firefighter!’ I can say, ‘Yeah, I wanted to be a teacher, but I became a firefighter, too.’”

 

Photo by Michael Lechner

Lechner’s proudest moments as a firefighter weren’t dramatic rescues, but the times she spent comforting her crew at much-needed peer-to-peer support groups. “There’s been a shift in firefighting. It’s all coming out of PTSD research,” she says. “We know there are traumatic things we’re seeing. There are so many suicides among first responders. We have to stop this strong, no-crying, cowboy-up attitude. So, we come in and talk to the firefighters.”

After the Marshall Fire

Two injuries and two unsuccessful surgeries recently forced Lechner into early retirement from the fire department, but she’s just getting started in many ways. Now remarried to a Louisville volunteer firefighter, she was elected this spring to the Louisville Fire Protection District Board of Directors, where she can impact key advancements like competitive salaries for career firefighters and better tools and training.

Lechner is the first retired female firefighter to serve on the board, which oversees the fire department’s budget and equipment needs and promotes good relations with the city council, police and other fire districts. Her agenda also includes continued community support in the Marshall Fire aftermath, fundraising, mental health training and speaking engagements. She’ll also be monitoring serious shifts in local firefighting: fewer volunteer firefighters and women emerging as battalion chiefs and captains in Boulder County, and tax implications from the homes lost in the Marshall Fire.

“With homes lost, our tax revenue will decrease in the 2023 budget year,” Lechner says. “The board must make fiduciary decisions based on that upcoming loss while ensuring the safety of our citizens as well as protecting our firefighters’ pay and benefits.”

Lechner’s home is less than a mile away, as the crow flies, from where the Marshall Fire swept through Superior and Louisville. “We weren’t able to fight the fire, so it was about how else we could give time and help,” she says. 

The fire made serving the community top of mind for many, Lechner adds. “We’re an active, aging community, and we can no longer say it won’t happen in our community.”

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