Brianna Watson is just one of the Gila Valley first responders that will be honored Saturday by the VFW. 

The first time the thought popped into her head, Brianna Watson dismissed it immediately. Even though her parents had been volunteer firefighters in New Mexico, she had never considered following in their footsteps. However, the thought kept coming back day after day.

Finally, after talking about it with her fiance, Ryan, and her family, she decided to attend a Thatcher Volunteer Fire Department meeting.

“I came to one of the Tuesday meetings and I never left,” Watson, 26, said with a laugh.

Watson has not only been volunteering with the TFD for 14 months, her colleagues nominated her as their choice for Firefighter of the Year.

Every year, VFW Post 10385 and the Ladies Auxiliary VFW honor local first responders who have been nominated by their respective agencies. It’s a tradition that’s about seven years old and this year’s ceremony is Saturday, said Charlotte Reynolds, auxiliary president.

“We wanted to do something for them, something to say ‘Thank you,” Reynolds said.

Watson, who makes a living as a professional body piercer, said she grew up hearing stories about the years her parents, Carl and Sharon, volunteered for a New Mexico fire department.

“I have a picture of my dad in his turnouts, it’s pretty cool,” Watson said.Her dad died seven years ago, but her mom and sister, Amanda, and her fiance have been nothing but supportive of her volunteerism.

“They thought it was cool, I think they were excited for me,” Watson said. “Ryan knows I’m independent and strong so he just lets me do my thing.”

She’s currently Thatcher’s only female firefighter and her colleagues have also been encouraging, she said. They vote on new members and she had no problems winning their approval.

“They all thought it was pretty cool,” when she showed up the first time, Watson said.

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“Not many females even want to do it or have the passion to keep doing it. I think a lot of them show up and think they want to do it and then after awhile, ‘ehhhhh,’” Watson said.

Being nominated for the award is humbling and it feels nice knowing she’s truly been accepted as part of the family, she said.

The volunteers train every Tuesday night and routinely have drills, she said. She was somewhat surprised at the heaviness of the turnout gear and other equipment that’s worn when battling fire; it feels like it weighs nearly as much as her, especially.

Because she also runs one of two of her fiance’s tattoo parlors, Watson said she has the freedom to go to many of Thatcher’s fire and accident calls.

“Sometimes we won’t get a call for a week and other times we get four or five calls in a week,” she said.

Although she’s a girly-girl in that she wears make-up and routinely has her nails done, Watson said she’s never been afraid of getting grubby. She was like a son to her father and was always outside hanging around with him and getting dirty.

Although she doesn’t have too many “war stories,” Watson said she’s been to some wrecks that have reinforced her reasons for choosing this path.

“Being there for people and helping the people who are panicking, telling them they’re going to be OK,” Watson said. “It’s nice to be there for people that need you... You can see it on their faces they’re thankful you’re there, just to reassure them when it’s scary. They’re pretty much alone in that moment.”

Over the last 14 months, Watson said she’s learned a lot about herself.

“I’m stronger than I thought I was in multiple ways, both physically and mentally,” Watson said. “It helps when you have a team that’s like family, that are always there.”

Check the Eastern Arizona Courier next week for a full list of honorees.

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