Paula Durrant’s career has always been with local emergency response teams.
She started out as a First Responder in Scandinavia in the early 1990s and later on became an EMT.
So when her son, Dustin, decided to takes some classes to become a fireman, she decided to join him.
“I thought why not get a little more training,” she said. “This is all a part of what I like to do.”
Joining the Ogdensburg-St. Lawrence Fire Department in 2003, Durrant never imagined that she would one day take the lead.
When the fire chief decided to step down in September of 2013, the Fire Commission Board offered her the job.
“I was the best qualified to fill the position, so I decided to give it a try,” she said. “I had been the safety officer for seven years, so I already knew a lot and I was making sure things got done.”
Though moving into the position was not bad, Durrant gives credit to the people that she works with for helping her with the transition.
“I cannot say enough about my team of firefighters,” she said. “They are always there for me.”
During her first few weeks as chief, the normally quiet Ogdensburg had four fires.
“I will admit, for that first big fire, I panicked,” she said. “Those were my guys out there, they were my responsibility and they were counting on me.”
With the help of fire chiefs from Manawa and Weyauwega, she was able to get the job done.
Durrant admits that the hardest part of her job is being such a small community and knowing the people that you are going to help.
“I remember getting paged out to a house fire that first week,” she said. “I recognized the address so I went straight from my house to the fire. The house was completely engulfed and we knew the gentleman that lived there was still inside.”
As firefighters arrived, they were able to rescue him.
“Saving a life is everything,” Durrant said. “Buildings and things can be replaced. Getting that guy out safe was a good feeling.”
She admits that firefighting can at times be a scary thing.
“People don’t realize how difficult it can be, depending on what you are walking into,” she said. “You are hanging on to your partner, thinking to yourself, ‘don’t lose me or we are going to die in here.'”
And sometimes there just isn’t anything that can be done.
“It’s hard to hear people say things like ‘The Fire Department let my house burn down,'” she said. “If it’s really bad, we are not going in there unless there is someone inside. You can replace a building – you cannot replace my guys.”
Durrant feels that she has earned the respect of other departments.
“It is unusual to see a female as fire chief,” she said. “But I am doing my job. Yes, there have been a couple issues, but it has not been anything that I cannot handle. I also know that I can depend on other chiefs for their advice. They have been a big help.”
Durrant plans on staying with the department until her retirement.
“I am here to help my community,” she said. “I am very dedicated to this and I love my job.”
Anyone interested in joining the department, can contact Durrant at 920-244-7682 or 920-244-7889. The fire department covers costs associated with training.