Meet the Firefighter: Forest Service Duty Officer Carla Richards

OKEECHOBEE — Forest Service Duty Officer Carla Richards was born and raised in Columbus, Ind., where she attended Bethel Holiness Christian High School with her two brothers and three sisters. When she was growing up, she dreamed of becoming an attorney and majored in secretarial science with legal emphasis. She said her favorite subject was business law, and her most memorable college moment was giving an oral presentation on euthanasia. Her first job was as a receptionist at a legal aid office, and her least favorite work experience has been as a fast food worker. She explained, she didn’t mind the work or the people, but standing for long hours was very hard on her body. She said she ended up in the Forest Service because she likes taking care of people and her community.

Forest Service Duty Officer Carla Richards. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Raised by a single mother, her parents and grandparents were the biggest influence in her life. Her grandmother was very domestic and taught her granddaughter everything she knows.

In her spare time, she likes to crochet, cross stitch, read, cook and bake. She said she loves spending long weekends camping with her husband, and spending time with friends and family is very important to her.

“The perfect weekend is packing up the travel trailer and taking off with Gary. Our goal is to visit every state park in Florida. Our last trip was a hoot, mind you I can’t swim, but I had a close encounter on an inner tube with a manatee on the Ichetucknee River. I got separated from my friends and family but had the best story to tell. The manatee was curious about me and I was afraid the darn thing would flip my tube,” she said.

“Thanks to e-Harmony, the Florida Forest Service has an exceptional dispatcher who has worked in Okeechobee County for almost seven years,” says Melissa Yunas wildlife mitigation specialist. Mrs. Richards met her husband through an online dating website over twelve years ago. She fell in love and moved over 1,000 miles to be with Gary, a deacon with the Port St. Lucie Church of Christ and a mechanical breakdown inspector who also grows hydroponic lettuce. The Richards have three children and one cat. Mrs. Richards explains she gave birth to two children and chose the third.

Mrs. Richards loves to take care of others by sharing her baked goods and hosting potluck dinners for family, friends and church members. During the holidays, she invites those that are alone, that don’t have family in the area to join her family for dinner.

The Forestry Firefighters call her Mama Bear. “If I sent you to the fire, in my mind, it’s my responsibility to bring you home safely,” Carla explains. “Every 30 minutes we need to hear from the Incident Commander on suppression efforts and find out if additional resources are needed. If the Forest Rangers don’t answer via radio, then I’ll light up their cell phones in two seconds making sure they’re alright.” Even though she has never physically been to a wildfire, she is an essential member to the overall suppression of the wildfire. Forestry dispatchers are the first line of communication when someone has a wildfire. Mrs. Richards gathers vitally important information that can aid Forestry Firefighters in forming an early understanding of what they will be facing upon arrival.

Her favorite part of the job is knowing that she is assisting in the protection of her community. “If I can dispatch the Forestry Firefighters to the right location quickly then maybe I can save a home from burning.” If you have an emergency, always call 911. The city/county 911 dispatchers coordinate with the Florida Forest Service’s dispatchers to mobilize first responders to the emergency, like a wildfire, she explains.

Melissa Yunas Forest Service wildlife mitigation specialist contributed to this article.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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