Betty Caulkins, 87, served on Alaska’s first all-women volunteer fire team, known as the Rabbit Creek Fire Bunnies. Mat-Su Valley resident Caulkins remembers joining the team to fill in where there was a vacancy.
“I felt that, you know, it was really needed and we did what we could do, and we were helping,” Caulkins said.
Caulkins helped form the Rabbit Creek Fire Bunnies in the early 1960s. The team was formed when current all-men fire teams were not always available to respond to fires in town.
“But then we decided that we were having a lot of brush fires and stuff during the day,” Caulkins said. “And there was a bunch of us decided that we could fight the fires during the day when the guys were gone. So that’s what we did.”
Caulkins recalls the training that her and the other women received. This training would help to narrow down 10 potential candidates to the final six.
“We did have somebody that came out and trained us,” Caulkins said. “And he told us, well, our first meeting would be on a certain day, and if you don’t want to be wet, and cold and miserable, don’t come. So that’s how we got started.”
The all-women team, according to Caulkins, were seen as equals to their male counterparts. When asked if there was any judgement or prejudice, she simply said no.
“Really, there wasn’t,” Caulkins said. “I mean, nobody really judged us back then. We just got out and did it.”
She recalls obtaining equipment that the fire station used when first starting out. The department’s auxiliary hosted events like bake sales to help raise funds to purchase equipment. Caulkins recalls purchasing the station’s first “real” fire truck using Betty Crocker coupons.
“And it was a Mack truck,” Caulkins said. “It was beautiful. It was Rabbit Creek’s first actual fire truck.”
Caulkins eventually left the Rabbit Creek Fire Bunnies. She went on to work in fire in the Valley. She was able to help form a fire station in Cottonwood Shores to help fill in a gap for surrounding fire stations, what Caulkins referred to as “no-mans land.” Caulkins also helped to develop a fire station on Pittman Road.
“We were outside of the Wasilla Fire Department and outside of the Palmer Fire Department,” Caulkins said. “And if there was a fire, they’d come but it was late.”
Caulkins worked in fire until she received her EMT-2 in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She continued as an EMT-3 until her retirement 15 years ago.
Caulkins remembers that her initial interest working in fire was sparked by a need to help the community.
“My feeling is I always have liked to help people,” Caulkins said. “And so you know, we were helping. That’s the way I felt, you know, we was helping the community… back then, you know.”