4 women served earlier times with BL fire fighters
Thu, 06/19/2014 - 11:00pm admin
In a story the Tribune published last week about the controlled burn of the old A&W, it was reported Tricia Skodje was the first woman to serve on the Big Lake Fire Dept.
This week, the paper stands corrected.
It turns out that at least four other women served with the department prior to Tricia. They were Gwen Bateman, Nancy Benson, Jennifer Smith and Karen Noel.
Karen (Kampa) Noel, joined the department along with her brothers, Don and Tom, and nephew, Dan Mooney, when she was 36. In her first year, she went to answer 112 of the 114 calls for assistance the department received.
Will Skoog was the assistant fire chief in Big Lake back then, and among the firefighters who took part in Karen’s selection process, which included being voted in.
Will is quoted as saying Karen worked out very well and was hard-working and conscientious.
“She’s earned a lot of respect,” he said.
Skoog said he wouldn’t be surprised to see more women apply to the department as openings occurred in the future.
Before each fire, the women, like the men, had to put on 65-70 pounds of safety gear.
Karen recalled training to practice using the self-contained breathing apparatus and fighting a 700-acre wild fire which broke out on the Refuge. She was also involved in fighting more than one house fire, including a house on Co. Rd. 43 where the fire hall now stands.
“I loved every minute of it,” she said. “Not the fires and people getting hurt, but helping the community.”
Karen recalled preparing for the annual Firefighter’s Dance and collecting toys donated by Lolly and Richard Goldstra, which firefighters used to give to children in moments of crisis, and the support she received from the other firefighters.
But after four years, following doctors orders, Karen’s fire fighting career came to an end and she had to retire.
She spends her days painting statues, crocheting afghans and cooking. Her friend, Gwen Bateman went on to become an EMT, working in the Monticello Big Lake area. Karen has lost touch with the others.
“They are special people,” she said. “There are not too many, just a few, who will do it.”