At Anaheim Fire & Rescue Station 3, during a break in the action just after lunch, a firefighter blows kisses at her laptop screen.
On the east side of the city, at Station 9, another firefighter mentions how work is a nice escape from home because she can go about her day without frequent interruptions.
Unless, of course, calls come in.
Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s only two female firefighters — Heather Soliz of Station 3, and Lacee Valente of Station 9 — also are relatively new mothers who have learned to juggle home life with their specialized careers, which take them away from their children (and husbands) for a minimum of 24 hours and sometimes for several days in a row.
During breaks at work, both love to say hello to their kids in live video feeds on their smartphones or laptops, as Soliz did Thursday afternoon, May 10.
“Hi there! You’re on TV!” Soliz said as she beamed at her daughter, Charlotte — or “Charlie.”
“Can you say hi?” Soliz asked. “Can you blow kisses?”
This Mother’s Day, both Soliz and Valente are off work and prepared to enjoy a relaxing Sunday with their husbands and little charges.
Soliz, 37, became a mother last year. Charlie is just short of 16 months old.
Valente, 35, is the mother of identical twin girls, Kylie and Makayla, who turn 3 in late June.
Both Soliz and Valente — who happened to go through AF&R’s recruit academy together when they were probationary firefighters for a year after the agency hired them in July 2005 — said they couldn’t juggle work and home without the help of loved ones.
For Valente, whose husband is an AF&R captain, that would mainly be her mother, Debbie Keller, who watches the twins at her home when Valente and her husband, Chris, are working (both have the same days off).
“She’s my hero,” says Valente, who grew up in Westminster and has an older brother. “She helps us out tremendously, and is awesome with the girls.”
Keller worked the graveyard shift at a grocery store to be with her children all day while her husband, Bill, a general contractor, was at work.
“She never missed school events and even coached basketball,” says Valente, who went to La Quinta High School. “She was super mom. She never got tired or complained.”
Now it’s Valente’s turn to be super mom — with the help of her mother and also her father.
“It really takes a village,” says Soliz, who relies on her mother-in-law, Elizabeth Soliz, and her best friend, Janna Mooney, who is married to AF&R Capt. Aaron Mooney, to help watch Charlie on days that both herself and her husband Steve are at work. “I’m so grateful for all the people in our lives who are willing to help us.”
Steve Soliz is in his 16th year as an employee of the Anaheim Angels, currently as a catching and information coach. During baseball season, he’s out of town a lot.
But this Mother’s Day, Steve Soliz is in town. Heather and Charlie will be at the Big A to watch the Angels take on the Minnesota Twins, then the three of them will have dinner.
Soliz also helps care for her grandmother, Lois Butler, 88, who lives with the Soliz family. Lois raised Heather from the age of 2 when her mother became ill. Heather was 15 when her mother passed away at the age of 33.
“She sacrificed so much for myself and my mother” Soliz says of her grandmother, a former pre-school director. “It’s nice to be able to give back to her and to see the joy that Charlie brings her; she truly just lights up when Charlie is in the room.”
While in college, Valente got interested in becoming a firefighter paramedic. Growing up, she always felt the need to help people.
Valente’s uncle, Tom Keller, a retired captain and paramedic at the Garden Grove Fire Department, took her on a ridealong when she was in college, and Valente got hooked.
For years, Valente worked at Station 1 in Anaheim.
She became a paramedic five years ago and worked out of several different stations.
Six months ago, Valente became an engineer (firefighters who drive and maintain the trucks, engines and other apparatus at fire stations) and has been working out of Station 9 since then.
Soliz and her husband waited several years before deciding to become parents because of their crazy schedules.
Soliz, a firefighter paramedic, worked on Engine 11 for several years. It is one of AF&R’s busiest rigs.
After becoming a mother, she transferred to Station 3, which is a little closer to her home.
She now is assigned to Anaheim Medic 3, a rig that mostly responds to medical aid calls at Disneyland and around the resort area.
Soliz says she misses the action of being assigned to an engine and knows she will be back on one in a few years.
Valente says she always wanted a family. Hired at 22, she and Chris got married when she was 30.
Both Soliz and Valente worked light duty during their pregnancies and said returning to work after maternity leave was an adjustment of sorts.
They felt “mommy guilt” about leaving their wee ones in the care of others, but both say things are working out great.
Working as firefighters, they say, definitely has its advantages. They are off several days in a row, which allows them uninterrupted time with their children.
And while at work, they find time to make video calls to their kids and caretakers.
Keller adjusts her work schedule as a flight attendant to be off whenever Valente and her husband are at work so she can watch the twins.
This summer, Soliz will get additional child-care help from her mother-in-law, Libby.
Soliz and Valente say being relatively new mothers has opened their eyes to the hard work done daily by wives of firefighters.
When their husbands are working — often, they are called in unexpectedly — these firefighter wives not only have to look after their kids, but also take care of their homes, run errands and essentially serve as single mothers for long stretches.
This Mother’s Day, Soliz and Valente want to give those mothers their due kudos.
And they will enjoy some attention themselves while spending some priceless time with their kids.
In Valente’s case, this likely will include watching her twin girls plays with one of their favorite toys:
A battery-operated chainsaw, a replica of the one mom may have to wield while on the job.
Charlie loves to play with tiny toy fire trucks.
“She tries to sit on them,” says Soliz.
Like mommy, like daughters.