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A Firefighter's Journey from Rookie to Mentor

Portrait photo of Firefighter Keeley Abram in blue uniform and hat.

Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Fire Station 94 responded to a midnight call in January 2021 for a commercial building fire in Hyde Park.

LAFD firefighters forced entry into the building while ladders descended on the roof which positioned additional members to create ventilation and attack from above. Before long, the fire extended to the attached building, immediately escalating the situation.

Firefighter Keeley Abram, a Fire Station 94 crew member, was also responsible for a "first-house rookie," a recruit that is on probation at their first fire station. On that call, Firefighter Abram quickly realized that her role as an LAFD firefighter meant much more than just fighting fires.

“That was the first time I really felt that I was more senior than somebody and that I’m responsible for helping this person and showing him what to do,” Firefighter Abram expressed.

She recalled fighting the fire until about 7:00 a.m. later that morning. The long, grueling firefight, and having to take on a leadership role for a recruit not too far behind her in experience, made it one of Firefighter Abram’s most memorable calls.

“It never even crossed my mind as a career,” Firefighter Abram said of joining the fire service. “I never saw any female firefighters, so it was never a thought.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in psychology, she was unsure what to do next. She played volleyball in college and was always involved in sports growing up, so she knew she wanted to stay active and pursue a dynamic, fast-paced job.

While working at a beach camp, Firefighter Abram became close friends with two EMTs who were pursuing a career in firefighting, and they encouraged her to do the same. “I would not have even thought about [firefighting] if it wasn’t for them,” she shared.  

Firefighter Abram received her Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification and worked for a private ambulance company for two years. She also worked as a K-8 physical education teacher and coached volleyball to support her journey to becoming a firefighter.

To double down on her preparedness, she went through the LAFD’s Candidate Advancement Program (CAP), which helps candidates get physically fit for and accustomed to the rigorous training that they will encounter in the LAFD Training Academy.

“The physical aspect is a big roadblock,” for many firefighter hopefuls, Firefighter Abram shared. She added that being in top physical shape is important for the mental strength that’s required to be successful in a firefighting career. “If you’re physically capable, you should be mentally capable as well,” she emphasized.

Firefighter Abram graduated from the Academy at Drill Tower 81 in December 2018 and moved as a rookie from LAFD Fire Station 12 in Highland Park to Fire Station 3 in Downtown Los Angeles. After her first year, she started her career at Fire Station 94 in the Crenshaw District.

She reflects fondly on her time as a rookie because of the firefighters, engineers, and apparatus operators who were willing to teach her and show her the ropes.

Due to an unfortunate on-the-job injury that required surgery, Firefighter Abram was put on light duty and placed back at the drill tower. As she healed, she was upgraded to special duty and has remained at the drill tower for two years.

While she loved the unpredictability of being in the field, she was surprised to find herself enjoying the new position, where she provided guidance and leadership to recruits who were walking the same path she had just a few years prior. The hands-on approach to learning and training closely replicates the types of experiences that candidates will have in the field, which keeps her skills sharp, as well.

She remembers how little she knew about firefighting, or even how to interview when she was staring down the prospect of becoming a firefighter. “Now that I’ve gotten comfortable with it, I’m able to pass that knowledge on to people who might also struggle with it,” Firefighter Abram shared. She has directly helped ensure that nervous interviewees become confident, driven, focused firefighters who are making an impact in the field today.

“I really enjoy working with people,” she said of her favorite aspects of the job. “Every day, you never know what’s going to happen.” For a career that was not part of her initial plans, being a firefighter and a leader is a huge source of pride for Abram.

But not more so than being a mom, and the happy greetings from her nine-month-old baby when she gets home from work coupled with the support of her wife of nine years.

Despite her newfound passion, Firefighter Abram is ready to get back into the field. Working with recruits makes her six years on the job feel like a long time, but one foot out into the field, she shared, and six years feels like not much time at all.