October 13, 2016 –
More than 80 pounds of gear and a fire hose enveloped her 5-foot-5-inch frame as she made her way through the burned-down building. A gas mask clung tightly to her face, cutting off oxygen supply in half.
A black veil draped over her head, covering her deep blue eyes, trapping in beads of sweat and clouds of steam. She crawled through piles of debris and ashes, using the deteriorating walls in the building as a guide through the rubble.
She hastily followed a faint beep in the distance, indicating her partner was immobile. When she reached the other fire fighter, she lifted a rotting door that had fallen on top of him. She dragged the 200-pound-plus man out of the wreckage and into safety.
At the end of the exercise, Crystal removed her gas mask and blindfold and took several deep breaths. Her cheeks were flushed and her face soaked in sweat.
Through short, paused phrases, she said this was her job: to be able to save a comrade if he went down, regardless of size and weight. If their lives are in her hands, that’s a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly.
Crystal Baetz is the first female interior firefighter at the Highland Park Fire Department in Michigan. A seemingly impossible task to accomplish in a male-dominated field, and yet the fire chief is proud to call Baetz his employee.
Kevin Coney, the fire chief of this department, called Baetz the “perfect employee.” He said, she is caring, hard working and knows how to take orders.
“I know when she is here, and I know when she isn’t,” he said.
However, Baetz isn’t just a firefighter.
She is also a U.S. Army Reserve staff sergeant, a 911 dispatcher and a combatives level four qualified instructor.
On a typical day, she juggles the duties of being a wife, a mother and a daughter all while making time for her three jobs and the gym. Baetz loves being on the move all day, and though she admits it’s hard sometimes, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“A lot of people tell me, ‘I wish I would’ve done this when I was younger, or I wish I would’ve done that’… I did not want to be that person to regret anything, you only have one life, and I want to do everything that I can.”
Multitasking is just part of her daily life.
“When my daughter was a baby, I used to do runs all the time with her. Sometimes I’d have a stroller in one hand and a dog leash in the other, and we would all go on a run together,” said Baetz, who lives in Roscommon County, Michigan, commutes nine times a month to her fire station in Highland Park, Michigan, 184 miles from home, and reports to her Army Reserve unit monthly in Belton, Missouri, more than 800 miles from home.
In the Army Reserve, Baetz serves as a military police Soldier with the 603rd Military Police Company.
“She doesn’t pick easy jobs,” said Capt. Mandy L. Coy, her company commander.
Being a firefighter isn’t an easy job, Coy said. Most people wouldn’t run into a burning building, and, more importantly, most women don’t have the strength to do what it takes to pull people out of a fire, she said.
As a 911 dispatcher, Baetz has to calmly explain to someone on the other end of a phone call, in a possible life-threatening situation, how to help themselves until first responders arrive. As a noncommissioned military police Soldier, she has to hold her peers in check.
She sets the standard and holds others accountable. None of those are easy tasks, but she completes them all with ease.
Two of the many official job titles Baetz holds are listed in Forbes’s list of 10 most stressful jobs in 2016: firefighter and enlisted Soldier. And yet, somehow, she still finds time to juggle it all.
Baetz is a mother, a wife and a daughter.
Her mother and father, Kimberly and Allen Lademan, are her support system, she said. Even as her mother struggles with the side effects of chemotherapy in her battle against breast cancer, they embrace their granddaughter and help take care of her.
Baetz’s husband, Paul Baetz, is her backbone, she said. They do everything together, from firefighting to combatives. They even serve in the same Army Reserve unit and deployed together in 2012. But above all, Baetz’s daughter is her motivation.
Being a good role model for her daughter, Alexis, is of upmost importance. Baetz wants to ensure her daughter understands that there are no obstacles too big to break through.
On top of the fact that she fulfills so many roles, she is only one of four women in the command who achieved level-four qualification in Modern Army Combatives, which requires approximately 440 brutal hours of certification training to complete.
As a combatives instructor for the 200th Military Police Command, she has trained more than 500 Soldiers. She’s currently the only female instructor still serving at that level for her command, which totals 14,000 Soldiers.
She also practices mixed martial arts, Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu on a daily basis.
Her husband said there is something special about Baetz.
“She’s too strong for how she looks… she ran a high altitude marathon in Bagram and was only minutes away from qualifying for the Boston Marathon, she didn’t even train for it. When she finished running it, her response (to the time) was, ‘Oh, I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to run that fast.’”
Baetz doesn’t take any of her roles lightly, she said. If she’s going to do something she is going to be the best at it. Whether it is being a squad leader, taking care of her Soldiers, making snacks for her daughter’s kindergarten class or training for her next fight she will go above and beyond the expectations.
During her deployment in 2012, she set up a holiday weight lifting competition for the Soldiers. The competition was called the Triple Threat. The Soldiers participating got placed into groups based on how much weight they could bench, deadlift and squat.
The best part of the competition was to see the Soldiers engaged in something other than the mission and their families back home, she said. The competition boosted morale and it gave Soldiers something to train for and something look forward to.
Next, Baetz and her husband are scheduled for another deployment together with their unit.
Coy personally asked Baetz and her husband to be a part of the 603rd MP Company’s deployment, she said. She needed strong noncommissioned officers who could handle the stress of the mission, people that she could trust. Based on Coy’s experience with them during their 2012 deployment, it was a no-brainer.
As a result of this request, Baetz and her husband drive more than 14 hours once a month to attend battle assembly and complete their pre-deployment requirements.
Once deployed, her parents will take care of their daughter. Alexis has a room in their home which will make the transition period easier for her, said Paul.
Growing up, Baetz always admired how strong and kind her mother was and she said she gets a lot of her strength from her. Likewise, now that her mother needs a little extra attention Baetz is willing to slow down a little bit to ensure that her mom taken care of.
Baetz isn’t just a woman telling her daughter that she can do anything she wants. Baetz is living proof that through dedication and hard work there are no excuses that can stop her from achieving anything she wants.