Cool Under Fire

Jaime Walker
Fire Department Captain
A.A., ATD, PSAV, 2002 / PSAV, 2006

When 9/11 happened, Jaime Walker was enrolled at MiraCosta College in Oceanside, Calif., but she hadn’t yet found a career path that clicked.

“I was looking for something where I could look in the mirror every day and say, ‘all right, I’m doing something good.’ You talk to most firefighters and that’s what draws them to the career. … I do a lot of running, and for several days after 9/11, when our country was in shock, I would run in the hills with my dog. It was then that I thought, ‘I have the opportunity to make a difference—I’m going to be a firefighter.’”

So this Wisconsin native, who had taught scuba diving in Florida, moved back to the “sunshine state,” passed the physical agility test and enrolled at Palm Beach Community College. She completed the Emergency Medical Technician, Firefighter and Fire Apparatus Operator programs as well as her A.A. degree at the College and was on her way.

Walker has been with the City of West Palm Beach Fire Rescue for almost 14 years and has been promoted three times: first to driver/engineer, then lieutenant, and now captain. Of the 203 firefighters in the department, 10 are women, and only one, Fire Chief Diana Matty, ranks higher than her. Walker is the only female captain.

“Our promotional process is very competitive. It’s considered a pretty big feat to get promoted. I actually scored number one out of 12 guys who took the test for driver/engineer.”

Like all firefighters, Walker is constantly involved in fire service education and training. She is a paramedic and holds several advanced credentials, such as in technical rescue and hazardous materials. Currently she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fire administration online with Columbia Southern University and teaches as an adjunct instructor at the PBSC Fire Academy.

“I love my career. The best part about being a firefighter is that every day is different; every day is a challenge. And the relationships that you build over the course of a career—I mean you live with these people and go through intense experiences together. They’re my brothers and my sisters. It’s a family.”

Walker turned 40 recently and is married to a firefighter, who is also a captain with West Palm Beach. “I always said, ‘I’m not going to date any firemen,’ then I met him, and he ruined my plans—and I’m very glad he did!”

Walker used to be a captain in charge of one of the nine stations serving West Palm Beach, but recently she made a lateral move to become EMS captain. Now she serves as the safety officer on the scene of major emergencies and also supervises the administration of medication and first aid.

“We’re tough and we’re busy. You don’t even apply to our department unless you want to work hard. Luckily our department is big enough that we get all the good equipment that makes or breaks a scene. If anything happens to you in the City of West Palm Beach, you’ll be fine. We have a dive team, [Walker is a dive team leader.], a technical rescue team, and a hazardous materials team. So when something happens, we don’t have to call anybody else, we’ve got it. That’s part of what makes me proud of the department—we are truly capable of handling any emergency.”