Featured EC Responder
In memory of Sue Rocha
Currently ECERF is helping Anna Ivanova, Sue’s long time partner and wife. Below is Anna’s memories of Sue and the struggles she is dealing with…
Dear Fire Family and Friends,
I have been struggling with the enormous loss of my lifetime partner and wife Suzanne Rocha. Sue spent 30 years fighting fires, creating and managing programs that continued to provide safety for other firefighters, and most importantly, mentoring firefighters to help them grow in their professional and personal lives. I can go on a long list of her contributions to the fire community, but I think at times it is important to recognize someone for who they are and how they have personally touched you in your life and in your career rather than to write a long list of accomplishments.
I met Sue while she was working with the California Desert District as a Deputy Fire Chief and I had just got a job with San Bernardino Forest Service. Sue was always a go getter and in particular had a “boots on the ground” approach. Myself, as well as many others, have always been inspired by Sue’s ability to never let go of that vision and to always make sure that her troops were taken care of and were safe in all aspects of their lives. Sue was always a person to make sure that you were taken care of before she had her own needs met.
Many of us in the Southern California Firefighting Community knew her as Sexy Sue, some us just called her Chief, others, just Sue. Some knew her as a firefighter growing up in the Sequoia NF and moving up from FF to Captain on Engine 61 in Kernville. Some knew Sue as a tough woman that did not give you slack and wanted to make sure that you succeed in the fire business. Sue “raised” her firefighters from Engine 61 to be Battalion Chiefs, Deputy Chiefs, Chiefs, as well as doctors, business entrepreneurs, and paramedics.
Sue was always proud to talk about how her firefighters turned out to be some of the best firefighters and human beings that she knows, especially raising them in the culture she created with “Yosemite Sam” being their mascot on SQF E61. Even as I got into the firefighting business, Sue was always at my side making sure that everyone is doing their job safely. We would have long conversations around how to make the fire community better with respect to safety and providing help for our people when they need it most. Seeing Sue on fires and the way the she managed difficult situations was always inspiring to me and many others.
Sue Rocha never stopped learning, always enjoyed listening/reading leadership books, set an amazing example for others, and was just a delight to have in the fire community. Towards the end of her life, she spent the last couple of years as the Lassen NF Fire Management Officer where she made a lot of changes for the better though not without numerous struggles and stressors that eventually started to affect her health.
Sue was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in 2012 and I remember having the difficult conversation with her where she stated that the cancer would eventually kill her. After several visits to the OBGYN over the years, Sue made the tough decision to retire after 30 year career in Fire, and was planning to move to Colorado permanently so we could be together year round while I continued through my Master’s in Counseling at CU Denver during the off wildland fire seasons.
Unfortunately, Sue never made it physically to Colorado. Sue retired at the end of March 2015 and was getting ready to close on a house in Colorado when she taken from us unexpectedly in a beautiful hot springs spot which she thoroughly enjoyed, and was relieved of her suffering. As her long term partner, and due to poor planning on our part, I do not have access to any of her benefits, her lifetime insurance, or her financial accounts. Her two kids are the full beneficiaries and executors of her estate. Although we were basically engaged since the fall of 2011, we never had the chance to legally get married especially since everything happened before the Federal Court legalized gay marriage in the U.S.
Currently I am struggling financially and although I am a seasonal firefighter for Vail Fire and Emergency Services, I have not been able to take paid time off. I took two weeks off of work unpaid to deal with the initial hit of everything, and although a good family friend helped at the time as much as they could, it is still a debt I have to pay back. I have been living off of a credit card since Sue’s passing, and although I have returned to work for the rest of the season, I am barely able to make payments to keep up with my current financial obligations.
Thankfully I work for an agency that is supporting me by giving me the time off that I need and are checking in with me and my process throughout all of this, but that is only half of my battle, so I am reaching out to ask for help. I am asking for donations to help me financially through this difficult time. Any donation will help. Your financial support will help me with my living situation as well as aid Sue’s kids in paying back expenses related to their mother’s passing, as well as respect Sue’s wish to have a party to celebrate her life.
Realizing there are many members of the fire community who are in need of closure with the loss of a friend, a mentor, a chief and the incredible person that Sue was, I am planning a Celebration of Life / Retirement Party for Fire and friends, sometime in the first two weeks of November in Southern California.
That is just to give a glimpse of the amazing person she is, and always will be in our hearts. Sue Rocha, You will Never Be Forgotten!