A firefighter in uniform standing in front of a fire truck.

Auburn’s First Female Firefighter Retires

In January of 1999, the Auburn Fire Department hired Janeen Ruge as their first female firefighter. Twenty-one years later, after forging a path for others to follow and passing along a wealth of knowledge, she is retiring.

Ruge, who has advanced to the rank of Captain and Acting Battalion Chief for the now Valley Regional Fire Authority says she has just been doing her job, but those who have worked with her and learned from her tell a different story.

“From the first day I started in this career, Janeen has been looking out for me. I know it wasn’t always easy for Janeen to be the first female hired, but her perseverance helped so many other females who have followed. Janeen has a passion for helping others and she has made a difference in the fire service. Her generosity and positive attitude have impacted many. I feel privileged to have followed and worked alongside Janeen,” said Captain Melina Kuzaro.

A major focus of Ruge’s career has been mentoring and training new firefighters and acting captains. It is estimated she assisted with training over 40 employees through her service on the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC). Ruge developed many components of written and practical tests used to evaluate the progress of new personnel, and served as a test proctor.

“Captain Ruge has always been able to recognize the characteristics and strengths of to individual firefighters and use those to help facilitate learning and professional development. Her skill in individualizing instruction within a standardized program is evidence of the level of mastery that she has in her craft,” said Firefighter Drew Larson.

Ruge was also a member of the Technical Rescue Team, with technician certifications in swift water rescue, hazardous materials, structural collapse and rope rescue. In addition, she was a Technical Safety Officer and served as an instructor for confined space rescue and rope rescue courses.

Delivering more than five babies and serving as a calming presence for frightened patients are some of the most poignant moments of the job for her, but her favorite memories come from working with her fellow crew members.

“The legacy I hope to have left for my crew is to always do the right thing, be good at your job, be comfortable with yourself and always proud of who you are,” said Ruge.

While she may be retiring from the VRFA, she will not be leaving the fire service altogether. Ruge will continue as a volunteer firefighter and training captain for the Mineral Fire Department.

“Janeen is a leader and trailblazer in every aspect of her life. While everyone knows that being a firefighter requires physical courage, Janeen also demonstrated the moral courage and tenacity needed to break into a male-dominated profession and then to excel. She not only cleared a path for the women who followed her into the VRFA, she made everyone around her better. The contributions she made to the training and safety of her crews will be felt in the VRFA and the community for a generation. We thank her and wish her as much success in her retirement as she had in her career,” said Fire Chief Brent Swearingen.