Photo Credit: 
Chronicle photos by Lisa Carroll

With a goal to one day become a paramedic, 19-year-old Caitlin Clauson has been volunteering as a firefighter at the Apache Volunteer Fire Department as a way to help people in the community. At the beginning of the year, she entered into the Fire Training Academy in Lawton and recently graduated after passing all of her certifications.

APACHE - Tucked behind heavy layers of heat resistant structural gear and under the safety of her fire helmet, Caitlin Clauson can't resist cracking a smile. Becoming a volunteer firefighter has recently been a major accomplishment for the 19-year-old from Apache, taking her one step closer to her ultimate goal in life. Interested in "reaching out to help people and help the community" Caitlin said she entered into the Fire Training Academy in Lawton last January, hoping to one day become a paramedic.

The only female in her class, Caitlin passed all of the required firefighting courses, physical challenges and Emergency Medical Services classes with flying colors. Going toe-to-toe with nine other men in her class, she successfully completed all her training and graduated in July. "I really hand it to the other guys who went through the academy. They were really supportive of having a female there," said Caitlin. "There's nothing I've encountered out there so far that's been beyond my capabilities. People put a high standard on physical capabilities, but everything we do, we do as a team, so it hasn't been an issue." Having someone who has passed all of the certifications without a hitch has been a true asset to the department said Apache Fire Chief Jackson McKeown. "To have a volunteer that has the same training as a full-time firefighter on a paid department is beneficial to the town of Apache," Chief McKeown explained. "With the EMT certs Caitlin obtained, it's also helping here at Apache EMS now that there's another person in town to work on the ambulance." "I've seen Caitlin on the fire line. I've seen her on EMS. I'm not scared to fight fires with her or run ambulance calls. She's right there with the rest of us," he said.

Continuing to freely give her time at the Apache VFD, Caitlin also works side-by-side with her father Tim, as they both continue to learn how to fight fires and assist in rescues. Watching his daughter work hard to achieve her goals while she gives back to the community, has been a real pleasure said, Tim. "I enjoy working with her very much. I can't say how proud I am of her," he said. "She's made some real accomplishments." While Caitlin hasn't been exposed to the inferno of an actual structural fire as of yet, she said so far, she really enjoys fighting grass fires, rendering aid during vehicle accidents and assisting with EMS calls. Out of the 15 volunteer firefighters currently on the Apache Volunteer Fire Department, Caitlin is the only female.