For Fire Fighter Specialist Kelly Abadie, who received a Woman of the Year Award from the Los Angeles County Commission for Women, “it feels a little funny, accepting an award for doing work.”
Abadie, who until recently was the Outreach and Recruitment Coordinator for the Department’s Recruitment Unit, was one of 14 honorees at the LACCW 30th Annual Woman of the Year Awards, Scholarship and 40-Year Anniversary Luncheon on March 9. The recipient of the President’s Award and one of two awards in the Law and Public Safety category, Abadie is one of seven community-at-large honorees.
“I’m very honored,” she said in a phone interview last week. “I’m very flattered.”
The Los Angeles County Fire Department is in her blood. Abadie’s father was a firefighter; however, “I didn’t initially think I could be a firefighter,” she said. Then, she joined the Fire Explorers and went through their academy.
“I just remember going on a ride-along (after the academy) … I’d be on a high for about a week,” Abadie said. She was hooked. “Once I graduated from high school, I joined the Forest Service, so it became my all-out need to make it happen at that point.”
Abadie was only one of two dozen or so women in the Department when she graduated from the tower, but she began noticing the lack of female personnel even before she began training at the academy.
“The time I spent as an Explorer and … in the camps and in the Forest Service, I was primarily the only woman on the crew,” she said. “And I think I started recognizing some of the difficulties of actually being a successful woman who made it because I started with a couple and they never … made it on the job.”
Because of her family connections, Abadie knew what it took to become a firefighter—something that she tries to incorporate into the Recruitment Unit’s mentor program, which is designed for aspiring firefighters who may be too old to become Explorers. Each person who joins the program is assigned a mentor at a station in the mentee’s general area. The mentor teaches his or her mentee about the job and takes him or her on ride-alongs so the aspiring firefighter has a better understanding of the fire service.
The first seeds of the mentor program were planted years ago when Abadie was working at a station.
“As I worked with the guys, they said, ‘Hey, would you mind talking to this girl? I know she’s interested in being a firefighter,’” Abadie recalled, adding that she was often paired with another female firefighter. “We had a good time just being a positive role model and being able to do our job well.”
After about 10 years in the Department, Abadie was asked to head the Recruitment Unit. As part of her duties, she tried to come up with new ways to attract women to the Department.
“Having me be the face of recruitment was a very different outreach to the people we were recruiting,” she said. “It kind of changed a little bit of that tone.”
She developed a list of aspiring firefighters and began pairing them with friends for ride-alongs.
“That … list was getting so big, I decided to be a little bit more formal,” she said. “I started working on developing a mentor program, and with that, this was going to be the opportunity to be able to expose many people and get people on board … Now we were going to have people come to us who knew they wanted to be firefighters.”
To create the mentor program with the Chiefs’ blessing, Abadie developed a training program for both mentors and candidates, and everything that went along with it.
“This program was going to be meant for the entire department,” she said. “At the end of the day, the candidate needed to realize how in-shape they needed to be to be successful in the academy.”
Though she no longer heads up the Recruitment Unit, Abadie still runs the mentor program, which has been “quite a success,” and attends recruitment events.
Photo gallery: Fire Fighter Specialist Kelly Abadie is honored at the Los Angeles County Commission for Women’s annual Woman of the Year luncheon. Several Department officials, including Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby, were in attendance. Photos by Doug Morrison.