A few years into her teaching career, life took Emily Jaramillo in an unexpected direction.

One day in 2001, Jaramillo, then a teacher in Albuquerque, had invited a local firefighter to her class to speak about the fire service. As Jaramillo listened to the talk, she began envisioning a new career path – one she saw as challenging and rewarding in equal measure.

Recalling that moment, Jaramillo said, “Our guest speaker was talking about how the city was working to recruit more women, and that sparked my interest.”

Four years later, Jaramillo enrolled in the Albuquerque Fire Rescue Training Academy and set forth on a journey that recently led her to the highest echelon of the largest fire department in New Mexico. Earlier this month, Jaramillo began her tenure as the chief of Albuquerque Fire Rescue, becoming the first woman to lead the agency in its 123-year history.

Jaramillo’s promotion coincided with International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month.

“Years ago, I would’ve said, ‘Oh no way – I’m not going to be a fire chief,’” she said. “But now, I’m here, and I want others from underrepresented groups to realize what’s possible by having a career in the fire service.”

Between juggling a full-time career and raising two young children as a single mother, Jaramillo is also pursuing a master’s degree in public health at New Mexico State University.

Jaramillo said she never lost her passion for education as she moved up the ranks in the fire department and remained determined to earn a master’s degree. Over time, she became interested in public health policy, an area she found more critical in recent years in the face of a global pandemic. In 2021, she decided the time was right to apply for graduate school after finding an online program in public health at NMSU designed to accommodate working professionals.

“I was impressed with the program at NMSU when I was doing my research,” she said. “I didn’t want to just get a piece of paper, and I felt with the program at NMSU, I was going to learn and grow as a student.”

Because of her interests, Jaramillo opted to take the program’s health management, administration and policy track, one of two areas of concentration. The completely online program – offered through the Department of Public Health Sciences in the College of Health, Education and Social Transformation – allows students like Jaramillo to complete coursework virtually on their own time – no matter their distance from NMSU’s Las Cruces campus – while maintaining their careers.

“It’s challenging, but I love my classes,” she said. “When I’m in a class, it’s almost like ‘me time’ because it’s something I’ll obviously use in my profession, but also, it’s a time that I can sit and do something I enjoy.”

One of Jaramillo’s mentors at NMSU, Jagdish Khubchandani, professor of public health, described her as a role model student.

“Emily is the type of student and colleague we wait for,” he said. “When you see her high-quality coursework and assignments, despite all her commitments, you cannot tell she is a fire chief of such a huge county – she is exceptional in every area of her life.”

He added, “As we celebrated Women’s History Month this month, Emily is a perfect example of what women in New Mexico stand for and can accomplish.”

Jaramillo expects to graduate in December, a semester ahead of schedule. Afterward, she plans to remain at Albuquerque Fire Rescue to continue her mission to diversify its ranks until retiring in 2025. In retirement, she said she hopes to find work that will allow her to use her education and years of experience in fire and emergency services.

“I want to take what I’ve learned through my career and at NMSU to work somewhere in policy and start to try to make some improvements in our state,” she said.

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