Jeanette Hilliker, 40, wife of Fire Chief Mike Hilliker, completed all requirements of the fire academy in December. In April 2002 she completed four hours of instruction in the field of wildland fire suppression to receive a certificate of training by the Arkansas Forestry Commission. The same month she finished her training by the Arkansas Fire Academy. In December Hilliker completed 12 hours of protective equipment training.
Hilliker was a first responder with the Horseshoe Bend EMS which has since been disbanded. Her interest in firefighting began at an early age. She recalled watching the television show Emergency and knew she wanted to be a part of a team where she could help others. "I've always wanted to be a paramedic," she said.
Before Hilliker became a firefighter she had sleepless nights when her husband was called out to emergency situations. She recalled one night listening to the scanner and heard one fireman say that a fireman was down. At that moment she knew the firefighter was her husband. When her husband arrived home safely he assured her it was just a minor incident.
But all that has changed now that she is part of the team and able to respond to emergency calls. She said she gets an adrenaline rush responding to fires. Hilliker said the male firefighters have all welcomed her to the team and have treated her with respect.
"It's an accomplishment. It's a dream come true. Horseshoe Bend gives so much to the community," she said.
This is one way she can give something back to the city.
As part of her training the fire chief would take her on assignments. During one training session she recalls doing a left and right hand sweep in a dark building. She would stay along the right side of the house and exit on the right side.
The same procedure was performed for the left handed sweep. During the assignments Hilliker was dressed in full gear including boots, pants, jacket, nomex hood, helmet, gloves and a self-contained breathing apparatus. Nomex is a fire retardant material that withstands heat, Hilliker explained.
Since becoming a firefighter she said her worst experience was not being able to save 5-year-old Brittney Alberson who perished in a fire in January. She said often people wait too long before calling the fire department. She said the public needs to call immediately. Another tip she has for the public is to make sure batteries in smoke detectors work properly.
She said when the alarm sounds for an emergency call "I'm at the starting line. I want to answer the call. I'm always prepared. You never know what you're going to come across."
Hilliker is currently employed as a teller at First National Bank of Sharp County. Prior to the bank job she was employed as an assistant manager at a local restaurant and served as the social activities director at North Arkansas Life Care Center.
The Horseshoe Bend Fire Department was formed in 1971 and continues to provide service to the community. Hilliker's husband is the fifth fire chief.
The fire department responded to 22 fire calls in 2002: 11 structure fires, nine grass/wild land fires, one vehicle fire and one vehicle accident. The first responders assisted in 94 calls. The department also attended 600 hours of training meetings.
Hilliker said being the first woman firefighter in Horseshoe Bend has opened doors for other women to join the fire department. "It could be a new trend," she said.