For Carlos Riego, founder of Paladius, a tragedy caused by a huge fire at the DuPont Plaza Hotel awakened in him a sense of urgency: to supply Puerto Rico with the best tools and technology to tackle fires. More than 30 years later, the mission remains and continues to expand to support all of the nation's leaders and first responders.
Among them, there are rescue leaders such as Celia Feijoó: the first female firefighter and captain of the Puerto Rico Fire Department. Like Paladius, Feijoó shares the same passion for service and for safeguarding communities around the island.
For 34 years, the current captain of the East region of the Island has fulfilled her calling and purpose while dealing with any gender stigma she has faced, since her entry into the Fire Department did not happen until 1989: when the regulations for the agency were amended and women were allowed to enter the academy.
Although this barrier did not stop her from falling in love with the profession at just 15 years of age: “thanks to a federal program at the Ramon Power y Giralt High School on Calle Loíza in Santurce, I had the opportunity to meet with the Firefighters of Puerto Rico, at the Academy in Miramar,” the captain tells us. “The experience was such that I became a volunteer and organized, together with my mother, Ramonita Nieves Diaz, the Youth Fire Department; where my adventure companions Luis Ortiz and Nélida Ramos also formed this group and we were able to expand it to Río Piedras and later to 22 stations in the Metropolitan Area”.
The years went by and she formed her career as a paramedic, a role she held for several years until the opportunity arose to become the first female firefighter, along with her partner, Evie Maldonado.
As she told us, family played a very important role in her development as a hero: “I activated my great support team that began with my mother, then my dear mother-in-law María Rosa Román, my sister-in-law, my brother and many others who helped me take care of my daughters over the years, while I was working through emergencies, rotating shifts, training, among many other responsibilities.”
It is worth noting that her admission as a firefighter was just the first step of what it takes to grow as the type of leader and captain with the ability to supervise more than 100 Puerto Rican firefighters.
Throughout her career, she has been constantly learning and facing new problems to solve: "...knowing that I saved a person from a suicide attempt, rescuing someone's pet, hugging a person in in the middle of a crisis and when they needed it most; There are so many things that I have treasured during these years of service, you don't know how much my spirit of satisfaction has filled me”.
At Paladius, it fills us and serves a great purpose to supply heroines like Captain Celia Feijoó. Our success is possible thanks to the highly experienced first responders, the leaders who break the mold, and most of all, those who are passionately committed to saving lives.
“For the women who want to become a firefighter: you have to commit with your whole heart, mind and spirit. No matter the stones they put in your way, keep going because you are going to use those stones to build your strong and safe castle. Climb the steps one by one without competing with anyone to achieve it, because at the end of the ladder, the satisfaction would not be the same. Respect yourself first, love yourself like no one else and fight for what you believe is fair. This is how you get as far as I have been able to get; satisfied and accomplished. I am proud of myself” concluded the Captain.