Aspiring firefighter, 21, now a cadet, has conquered a variety of sports, artistic pursuits


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Nicole Nelson was booming around a berm during a BMX race in Lancaster when she got bumped by another rider and took a spill.

Nelson, then 16, wasn’t hurt, but several medics instantly swarmed her, making sure she was OK.

“They all wanted to help me,” said Nelson, who got back on her bike and won the series championship that day.

The EMTs made an impression on the gritty girl from Anaheim, whose BMX exploits are just one of several physical pursuits she has engaged in over the years (now 21, Nelson currently is into surfing and indoor rock climbing).

Nicole Nelson raced BMX bikes until she was 14. Photo courtesy of Nicole Nelson

Nelson also is on track to fulfill her dream of becoming a firefighter for Anaheim Fire & Rescue, where she currently works as a cadet at agency headquarters in Anaheim.

She’s one of three cadets attached to AF&R’s Life Safety division, whose members do a lot of residential and commercial inspections and are involved in community programs such as home safety visits to make sure smoke alarms are working.

“She’s the best one out of all of us,” says fellow Life Safety cadet Christian Aviles.

Assistant Fire Marshal Lindsey Young runs AF&R’s Life Safety unit.

Nicole Nelson surfs and also holds surf camps for youngsters. Photo courtesy of Nicole Nelson

“Nicole is a fantastic addition to our team as a Fire Cadet, and her abilities are only exceeded by her positive attitude and dedication to learning everything about the fire service,” Young says. “She’ll be a great firefighter wherever she’s hired, but I really hope she gets to stay with Anaheim!”

Nelson attends EMT classes at Santa Ana Community College. She plans to earn an associate’s degree from Santiago Canyon College in the spring and enter the fire academy in August 2019.

If all goes as planned, Nelson will graduate from the fire academy in December 2019, and a fire service agency will hire her as a probationary firefighter shortly thereafter.

AF&R Fire Inspector Adrien Abel calls Nelson a model fire cadet. She reports to Abel under the Wildfire Mitigation Program and conducts fire hazard abatement investigations and meets with the public to give advice on wildland fire defense practices such as the “Ready, Set, Go” program.

AF&R Cadet Nicole Nelson once considered a career in nursing, but now realizes the fire service is her true calling.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“She has time and time again been a very reliable and dedicated worker,” Abel says. “I trust that she will be an exemplary firefighter one day.”

It took Nelson a while to find her calling. For a while, she was considering nursing.

But she realized her physical gifts in a variety of sports and artistic endeavors since childhood, as well as a desire to help others, made her a perfect fit for firefighting.

“Do you like working with your hands?” Nelson asks. “Do you like getting dirty? Do you like physical activity?”

These are some of the questions aspiring firefighters should ask themselves, Nelson says.

She did all three beginning at an early age.

Nicole Nelson played the cello and upright bass growing up. Photo courtesy of Nicole Nelson

Nelson’s father, who owns a heavy equipment business, taught her and her younger sister, Sydney, how to weld, drive tractors, and change the oil on tractors.

Nelson’s uncle, Perry Peterson, a former professional bull rider from Sparks, Nev., is a surfer who also encouraged Nelson and her sister to try out a variety of sports.

Nelson did gymnastics for eight years, from ages 4 to 11, and then got into racing BMX bikes until he was 17.

She also played softball from ages 12 to 16, including at Canyon High School in Anaheim. She played outfield and sprayed balls around as a slap hitter (she bats and throws left). Her sister was a power hitter.

While in high school, Nelson also joined the tennis team for a year at the suggestion of a softball friend. She was voted most spirited.

Nicole Nelson played softball from ages 12 to 16, including at Canyon High School in Anaheim. Photo courtesy of Nicole Nelson

Nelson then got into scuba diving. Oh, and she wrestled (along with her sister) in high school as a senior.

“I’ll do something and get pretty good at it,” Nelson says, “then it’s time to move onto the next thing.”

Orchestra was Nelson’s favorite subject in high school. She played the cello from fifth to eighth grade and the upright bass throughout her years at Canyon High.

While holding down good grades, Nelson also found time to volunteer. In her junior and senior year, she volunteered in the neonatal and mother/baby units at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton. Nelson also spent several Saturdays volunteering at Mary’s Kitchen in Orange.

At the suggestion of a friend, Garrett Lovell, an AF&R explorer at the time who now serves in the Navy, Nelson joined AF&R as an explorer when she was 17.

“Wow, this is pretty freaking cool,” Nelson said of becoming an explorer.

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

She became a cadet, a paid position, in October 2017.

“Since I was 17 years old, that’s what I’ve been gung-ho about,” Nelson says of a firefighting career.

Nelson works between 28 and 35 hours per week as a cadet.

Outside of work and school, her favorite surfing spots are Huntington Beach and Newport Beach. She also teaches surfing to groups as a team-building exercise.

Another supervisor at AF&R praises her.

“Nicole is the perfect example of a cadet and someone who has the drive, desire and work ethic for the fire service,” says Natali Rudometkin, community engagement manager.

“She always goes above and beyond with a can-do attitude and it’s a privilege to have her on our team. She has a bright future ahead, and I look forward to seeing her grow in her career.”

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