Faces of Cebu Life!

FACES OF CEBU: Maribeth Mall Ababon, 35, woman firefighter

CEBU CITY, Philippines — Womanhood does not set a boundary on what you can do to be of service to society.

Over the years, this sentence has been proven to be true as women have found their place in various industries, especially those known to be historically dominated by men.

Among these is the fire service industry, which some might still view as a job for “big and strong men.”

But firefighting is also a woman’s job.


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Since a long time ago, women have joined professional and volunteer fire departments in the Philippines showing the world that they can pull their share in such dangerous jobs.

One of these women is Fire Officer 3 Maribeth Mall Ababon.

35-year-old Ababon is among the many women firefighters of the Cebu City Fire Office who are tirelessly working to ensure that the residents continue to live in a fire-safe city.

Being in the Bureau of Fire Protection for more than 10 years now, Ababon is proof that women are equal to men in every aspect of their work.

 Career shift

Ababon was honest in sharing that she never imaged that she would be a firefighter in her younger days.

She took up nursing in one of the universities in Cebu City but did not take the board exam after graduating.

Ababon and her older brother during a swimming competition in elementary school | Photo courtesy of Maribeth Mall Ababon

Instead, she chose to use her skills as a member of the varsity swimming team since elementary school and become a swimming instructor.

However, Ababon drew inspiration from her father and uncles who worked in the fire service in Cebu City for up to 30 years.

She chose to apply to the BFP to help others and influence how the public perceives firefighters.

After applying for five times, she made it in 2013.

With the passion for service running in her blood, she was persistent even after receiving a “no” four times.

Passionate at her job

woman firefighter

Ababon during one of the times they responded to a fire alarm. | Photo courtesy of Maribeth Mall Ababon

“I was a lecturer [in the community relations unit] for 4 years before I became the chief-in-charge of Mabolo Fire Substation in 2019. That was the most challenging part since that was my first operation assignment,” shared Ababon.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, she was assigned to the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) before going back to the Mabolo and then to Lahug.

At present, she is serving as a fire safety inspector at the Pahina Central Fire Substation since 2022.

While she enjoys her work in educating community members on fire safety, Ababon shared that there were also factors that made her job difficult.

The biggest hardship she mentioned is how firefighters are unable to maintain a work-life balance because they are always on call.

“Mao na siyay nakalisod. Because unahon man nimo. Kumbaga, para sa bayan man ta. Unahan nimo ang utan before imo kaugalingon. Even before sa imong pamilya,” she said.

(That is what is difficult. Because you have to put them first. It’s just like it’s for the country. You put the vegetable soup first before yourself. Even before your family.)

Another hardship she went through was back in December of 2021 when Super Typhoon Odette struck Cebu.

Ababon recalled how everyone in the station were on duty and there were 2 to 3 fire everyday. She added that it was challenging to deal with the frustrated residents who would threaten them to give water.

While they understood their sentiments, it took some time before firefighters were able to give out water to the public as they had to stock up to respond to fires. With the help of her colleagues, however, Ababon was able to move forward.

Faces of Cebu Ababon

Ababon on duty onboard a firetruck | Photo courtesy of Maribeth Mall Ababon

Being a woman firefighter 

Seeing Ababon in her uniform has also caused some individuals to raise their eyebrows.

She recalled how some would ask her if she had the strength to lift the water hose at the scene.
This kind of experience was frequent when she first started out.

But the resilient Ababon did not let this dim her light for she knew she was capable.

“Ako lang na ipalipas. Kay kita, gitrain man gyud ta. Dili man na ingon sa gidak-on sa imo lawas no. Naa man gyud siyay proper technique, proper stance, kung unsaon siya paghandle. Trained man ta so makayara ra gyud,” she stated.

Faces of Cebu Ababon

Ababon as the host of one of the programs of the agency | Photo courtesy of Maribeth Mall Ababon

An advantage of being a woman firefighter, on the other hand, is that they set a different working environment.

“Katong negative, naa puy positive. Naa puy uban nga different ang impact para sa ilaha na makakita sila nga naay lady firefighters nga naa sa field…Ang fire station man gud ug ang atong office, gihimo na antog ikaduhang balay. Ug naay haligi ng tahanan, naa puy ilaw ng tahanan,” shared Ababon.

While she acknowledged that working in fire service is more challenging for women than men, Ababon relayed that it is up to the person to fill the gap in strength by training harder.

Now, she can confidently say that women can stand on the same ground as men in the fire department.

“I believe we have different capabilities. Being a woman in this job is never easy, that’s a fact. But people are now seeing women doing the job in the field side by side with men. So it made people realize that women are also capable pud diay. Somehow, maka-catch up sa pantrabaho nga panlalaki,” said Ababon.

It also helps her self-esteem as more people are beginning to appreciate the presence of women in the BFP.

Her secret to being a strong firefighter, she revealed, is always having the desire to prove that she was accepted for a reason.

“You just have to keep on proving yourself. You never give up. Dili ka magpadala anang mga negative na storya. Depende man gyud na on how you take it. Turn it into something positive. Imbes na ma low morale ka, mas ipaprove gyud nimo nila nga kaya nimo,” she advised working women everywhere.

Faces of Cebu Ababon

Ababon is one of the many women firefighters in Cebu City facing the dangers everyday to assist the citizens in times of emergency. | Photo by Emmariel Ares

Ababon is now focusing on serving her part in the BFP for more years to come. As an experienced woman firefighter, she encouraged young children to persevere if they wish to be like her in the future.

“To all the little girls out there who wants to become a firefighter someday, as early as now, stay physically fit and healthy. As much as possible, you engage in sports. Para active gyud ka ba. Sukad pa lang pagkabata, namold na ka…And then just do your best in everything. Kay wala may imposible. If I can do it then you can do it as well.”

TAGS: BFP, FACES OF CEBU, firefighter
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