Karen Weiss (RRHS)
Due to the current pandemic, Lacey Fire District 3 has been extra busy. Karen Weiss, Captain Firefighter/Paramedic, Medical Services Officer and a graduate of River Ridge High School is stepping up to help keep our community safe!
Weiss attended Lacey Elementary, Chinook Middle School, North Thurston High School her freshman year, then finished at the former alternative New Century High School and graduated from River Ridge High School. “I am a proud North Thurston Public Schools kid,” she said.
While Weiss attended New Century, she also did Running Start at South Puget Sound Community College. After graduating, she attended Seattle Massage School and then went on to take part in a Tech Program at Tacoma Community College. She became a paramedic in 2003 and today is back in the classroom, working towards a BAS in Public Health. “It’s never too late for more education,” she said.
Growing up, Weiss played softball and was voted “friendliest person” two years in a row at Chinook Middle School. “Even though I was friendly, I really struggled fitting in to a traditional high school model,” explains Weiss. “I was a good student, but I just never felt like I was a good fit. I was super creative and had a hard time focusing, so I reached out to teachers for support. Shoutout to Ms. Phillips who helped guide me through some tough times.
“I had so many great teachers,” said Weiss. “My kindergarten teacher, Mr. Terry Brennan was the first awesome male role model I had. My 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Rawlings inspired my love of reading and my 7th grade science teacher, Mr. McGibbon inspired my love of all things biology.” Weiss was 19 years old when she met her first career firefighter and was introduced to the profession. “He told me that good women are needed in the fire-service industry and that I would be a good candidate,” she explains. “He was right!”
Weiss has worked in the field responding to 911 calls for over 23 years. She started as a volunteer firefighter when she was just 19 years old and now manages medical training for the LFD Paramedics and EMTs and creates partnerships with local hospitals & clinics. Responding to fires is only 4% of the calls that the Fire Department receives. “We respond to medical calls of all types both big & small, automobile accidents, water rescues, we deliver babies, and we have even rescued a dog or two from a frozen pond,” said Weiss. Developing new protocols for her department’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic is also on her busy schedule.
“I get to work with a great group of talented and compassionate men and women who care deeply about serving our community,” explains Weiss. “And to be honest, the adrenaline of big calls, things on fire, and driving fast is a bit addictive. I was not cut out for a full-time office job.”
In her free time, Weiss enjoys eating Papa Pete’s pepperoni and pineapple pizza, watching the movie and reading the book, Out of Africa. “It will inspire you to get out of your own way, travel and explore,” she said. She also enjoys spending time with her two grown kids and traveling and hiking with her boyfriend. “We have a small little farm in Olympia with a garden, goats, chickens and two giant dogs that keep us pretty busy.”
Weiss has some advice for students:
- Show up for yourself. Set goals and try to reach them every day.
- Keep trying to find your people. Gravitate to the teachers you connect with and ask for help! We all need help.
- If you are interested in becoming a firefighter, Weiss recommends a 2- or 4-year degree in emergency management, communications, or biology. “Be a good citizen, volunteer and stay out of trouble. It’s ok if you don’t know anything about firefighting, we will teach you, you just have to be willing to work hard and try your best.”
- If you are a female looking to become a firefighter, “don’t underestimate yourself, your strength or your worth,” said Weiss. “You belong. You don’t have to be “one of the guys,” you have to be a hard worker, an honest person, and have a heart for service.”
- Don’t buy into gender roles or listen to group think. Be you, just be the best version of you that you possibly can.
Don’t be afraid to take a non-traditional path. Be the best version of you that you possibly can. “Mainstream paths may not work for young adults when they are creative, they have complex life experiences, and they see traditional problems and challenges differently. All these traits can make you a great emergency responder. I do well in chaos, I am a problem solver, and I have a creative approach to complex situations, and because I struggled fitting in, I am a more compassionate human towards others. All of these traits I now look for in the new Paramedic/Firefighters we hire!”