Newly sworn-in Navajo Nation firefighters (from left to right) are Delwin Dooline, Emillio Warner, Spencer White, Kody Ayze, Randy Frank, Jordon Ellis, Gerald Todacheenie, Terrance Nasafotie, Lt. Michael Begay, Marla Kinlecheenie, and Donnikka Little, pose for their families during their graduation ceremony Wednesday. Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
11 sworn in as full-time Navajo Nation firefighters
Published January 31, 2016
WINDOW ROCK, ARIZONA — Being a firefighter on the Navajo Reservation is not like being a firefighter in a city or in most smaller communities off the reservation.
This was brought up several times during special graduation ceremony held at the Navajo Nation Museum for 11 men and women who were being sworn in as full-time firefighters for the Navajo Nation Fire Department.
Lt. Michael Begay knows this.
After joining the Navajo Fire Department in 1999 as a volunteer, he has now been named to head the fire station in Leupp.
When asked how many fire personnel he will be overseeing, he said, “there will just be me.”
OJ White, father of graduating Navajo Nation firefighter Spencer White, who is a police officer with the Chinle Police District, pins the Navajo Nation firefighter badge on his son Wednesday at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock.
While he will have volunteers to help him, Begay knows that there is a good chance that when he reaches the site of the fire, he will be the only one there to begin fighting it and that’s something he says he has to be prepared for.
The reason is simple, said Fire Captain Larry Singer. Firefighters on the Navajo Reservation are specially trained to deal with the possibility that they will be the only ones there to battle the fire.
Singer said that when he talks to fire officials off the reservation from places like Phoenix and Flagstaff, they are amazed to learn of the conditions on the Navajo Reservation that firefighters have to face.
Jeremy Curley, 29, has been a full-time firefighter in St. Michael’s, Ariz., for about a year, after volunteering for several years before that. He was on hand to wish the new recruits well … and he hopes they stick with it.
“Some people just can’t handle the kind of things we see,” he noted. “You have to be willing to talk to your family, to the other personnel after you debrief … You don’t want to carry it with you.”
Sometimes Curley is envious of city firefighters.
“They have a station on every corner,” he said. “They don’t have to deal with dirt roads and places with no addresses. For us, they’ll say, ‘It’s at the Yazzie place,’ and we’ll have to tell them, ‘I don’t know the Yazzies!’”
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.