Skip to main content

Making history: Graduate student becomes Albuquerque’s first female fire chief

Emily Jaramillo made history in 2023 when she became the first woman to ascend to the highest ranks of the largest fire department in New Mexico. Jaramillo, a career firefighter and NMSU graduate student, was named chief of the city of Albuquerque’s fire department, becoming the first woman to lead the agency in its 123-year history.

“Years ago, I would’ve said, ‘Oh no way – I’m not going to be a fire chief,’” she says. “But now, I’m here, and I want others from underrepresented groups to realize what’s possible by having a career in the fire service.”

Jaramillo set forth on a path to the fire service more than 20 years ago. A former teacher, she became interested in the field after inviting a city firefighter to speak to her class in 2001. 

“Our guest speaker was talking about how the city fire department was working to recruit more women, and that sparked my interest,” she recalls.

Four years later, she enrolled in the Albuquerque Fire Rescue Training Academy and found her life’s calling. She worked up the ranks over the following years, holding various positions before becoming fire chief in March 2023. Yet, she never lost interest in education. 

During the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jaramillo became interested in public health policy, an area she wanted to study as a graduate student. In 2021, she applied to NMSU after finding an online program in public health designed to accommodate working professionals.

Because of her interests, Jaramillo opted to take the program’s health management, administration and policy track, one of two areas of concentration. The completely online program, offered through the Department of Public Health Sciences in the College of Health, Education and Social Transformation, allows students like Jaramillo to complete coursework on their time while maintaining their careers.

“It’s challenging, but I love my classes,” says Jaramillo, who juggles school with work while raising two young children as a single mother.

Jaramillo expects to graduate in May 2024. Afterward, she plans to remain at Albuquerque Fire Rescue to continue her mission to diversify its ranks until retiring in 2025. In retirement, she says she hopes to find work that will allow her to use her education and years of experience in fire and emergency services. 

“I want to take what I’ve learned through my career and at NMSU to work somewhere in policy and start to make some improvements in our state,” she says.