The firefighter paramedic’s black backpack hangs inside Engine 11 on the west side of Anaheim.
It’s filled with supplies and materials for scary things like hazardous material spills.
That doesn’t mean Heather Soliz won’t have a little fun with her backpack.
She adorned it with a red ribbon with polka dots — a distinctively girly touch in a profession dominated by men.
Soliz, 34, is one of Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s two female firefighters out of a force of nearly 270.
The agency strives to hire a diversity of people who reflect the community. But firefighting is a profession few females enter.
Soliz, between calls during a recent busy ridealong, didn’t make a big deal about her gender in such a physically and emotionally demanding profession.
“I think I’m treated the same as everyone else,” said Soliz, who in July will mark her 10th year with Anaheim Fire & Rescue.
Soliz, who is married to Angels bullpen coach Steve Soliz, offered some insights into a job she seemed destined to do.
Soliz grew up in Irvine caring for others. Her mother battled poor health most of Heather’s life and died of renal failure when Heather was 15.
Being a people person and wanting to help people are key traits for someone aspiring to be a firefighter – be they male or female, said Soliz, who took emergency medical technician classes at Orange Coast College and paramedic classes at Santa Ana College.
She served as a volunteer firefighter with Santa Ana for two years before joining Anaheim Fire & Rescue in July 2005.
In 2006, Soliz had a big scare when she fell 20 feet from a ladder onto concrete during a training exercise.
The broken back sidelined Soliz for several months but, luckily, the injury didn’t derail her career.
“Not many women apply for a job like this,” Soliz said. “A lot of women don’t think they can do this job, but I think they can.”
She added: “You can do anything you want if you work hard. But you have to be strong physically to do this job. A lot of it is technique, such as using your legs to lift a ladder.”
Not surprisingly, Soliz has a soft spot and a soft touch for the elderly — she largely was raised by her grandparents.
On a recent call to a nursing home after an elderly woman fell out of her wheelchair, Soliz spoke kindly and gently to the resident.
“What’s your name, dear?” Soliz asked with a smile. “Were you speeding?”
Soliz took the woman’s blood pressure as another paramedic from Station 11 checked other vitals.
The woman’s blood sugar was high — perhaps from a slice of pie she recently ate.
As a precaution, Soliz and her team had the woman transported to a hospital.
“I love interacting with people,” Soliz said. “Not only do I have the opportunity to help people, but also to get to know them.”
Sometimes, while on duty, Soliz will hear a cheer from a stranger.
“Yes, a woman!” she typically will hear.
Soliz is appreciative, but she prefers to be cheered for doing her job — not for her gender.
“I love my job,” she said. “It’s never monotonous. I look forward to coming to work every day. Every day is different. I never know what to expect.”
Soliz is into country music artists such as Eric Church, George Strait and Garth Brooks.
In their rare spare time together, Soliz and her husband love to travel.
Prior to the January ridealong, Soliz enjoyed a snowboarding vacation in Vail, Colo.
Another call came in.
Then came a call for medical aid.
Halfway to the scene of the freeway accident, Engine 11 was called off the incident as another rig was closer to the scene.
“You have to have the right personality and attitude to do this job,” Soliz said. “You also have to be fluid — things can change in a second.”
Asked what qualities are most important in a firefighter, Soliz said “integrity, a willingness to do the job, being a people person and having a little thick skin.”
Back at Station 11, it was chow time – dinner, and some brief down time with her colleagues
“Working in a fire station,” Soliz said, “is like having a second family.”