By Dawn Belloise
Leah Fischer spent 20 years volunteering as a firefighter paramedic with the Crested Butte Fire Protection District (CBFPD) under chief Rick Ems and three years as a paid career employee. She resigned in May of 2021 and continued to work part-time for Gunnison Paramedics. In the winter of 2020, she also began working as needed at the Mountain Clinic. She still fills in a few times during the season.
She was hired full-time this year by the Fountain Fire Department and bought a part-time home in Fountain, near Pueblo. Her captain in Gunnison, Jill Adams, had helped get her a position as a paramedic with American Medical Response (AMR), a private ambulance company in Pueblo. “Within four weeks of running ambulance calls in Pueblo, I superseded 23 years of call volume in the Gunnison Valley. Jill Adams was the best support I had, that organization, Gunnison Valley Paramedics, operates as a family and they are top notch,” she says. She’s now part-time with AMR since being hired at Fountain.
Leah was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and raised in Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She laughs that she was a Canadian Navy brat. As an 8-year-old kid, she played lots of softball with her dad coaching their fast pitch team, and all through her high school days until she graduated in 1987. Leah left home at 19 and headed straight for the mountains up at Whistler where she joined the volunteer ski patrol and did the ski resort shuffle of employment as a bartender, waitress and human resource for the mountain and banquets. “I’ve never held less than two jobs in all of my adult life,” she tells. “Back then, I wanted to ski as much as I could, and the difference between then and now is that my focus is my kids. I have to keep moving forward for them. It’s what kept me above water when I lost both my parents in 2021 and then my job with the CBFPD, which was really more of a family.” Leah has two kids, born and raised in Crested Butte, Ty who is 19, and Gavin who’s 16 and a junior at CBCS. She and her former husband Dave Fischer raised their kids together, “even after we split up. We’re still good friends,” she says.
She had met Dave at Whistler in 1990, and after six years, they moved to Telluride. Leah worked in housekeeping at a B&B. The owners also hired her to work in their restaurant and she played on their softball team. She recalls that snow year 1992 through 1993 was an incredible year in Telluride. She and Dave decided to move to Bellingham, Washington so Dave could pursue chef training. Leah became a travel agent. But the mountains were calling them back so when a friend suggested Crested Butte, Leah did some research. “I tried to look it up in a ski magazine, but it was nowhere to be found,” she laughs, “so we said, let’s go.” They packed up their lives and drove out. They had already sent a check for a rental, sight unseen. “It was 1995, it was a different era,” she says of the time where one could actually find housing. “We arrived, drank a beer sitting on our porch in the sunshine, and it was beautiful. But moving our stuff up the stairs, we realized we weren’t at sea level anymore. I loved it,” she smiles at the memory.
Mac Bailey hired Leah as a travel agent, and she was also a lunch waitress at the Idle Spur for the Garcias. After a year at the travel agency, she moved to reservations with the Chamber of Commerce but continued to work at the Idle Spur. “It was that summer when I joined the fire department,” she says, having taken her EMT certification that spring. “Lyn Moore said I had to come to the fire side too, so I signed up as an EMT for that as well. They teach you to be a firefighter and it was all volunteer back then except for the chief and the mechanic, and (CEO) Mike Miller. I obtained Firefighter 1 shortly after.”
Leah became an assistant bookkeeper with Lyn Moore (Moore for Your Money) in ‘99, and in 2000 she launched her own bookkeeping business with her own clients. She was still working at the Chamber and Idle Spur until 2000. She then accepted a full-time position with CBMR as assistant to the mountain manager, “Because I got benefits for my kids, health insurance and ski passes,” she explains. In 2010, feeling the need to be more flexible for her sons, she decided to focus full-time on her bookkeeping business and left CBMR. It also enabled her to invest more volunteer time for the CB Fire Department.
Leah feels that taking the recent Critical Care Paramedic Certificate Program in the fall of 2021 through the University of Florida online program helped her to regain a belief in herself, especially after feeling so knocked down with all the personal events of 2021. The course itself taught her the why of paramedicine. “It was a higher level of education. I always need to know why, not just what. It helped me rebuild myself and my self-esteem.”
“I’ve lived in the Gunnison Valley now for 28 years, which is more than half my adult life. This is my town. I love my town, the people, the surroundings, the character,” she says and recalls her very first time she drove into the valley, “I fell in love with the mountains, it was incredible and from day one I made friends who I’m still close with today.”
When she’s not working, she’s in Pueblo. Leah goes mountain biking there and in Colorado Springs and Canon City. She was also a little surprised to discover that her new part-time home in Fountain actually gets snow. “I’ve made some great friends there. It’s a whole different lifestyle outside of a ski resort, where I’ve lived since I left home at 19. But when I come back to Crested Butte, I appreciate the mountains and not working myself to the bone. My kids grew up doing all the things you do in the mountains, and we still do all those things together.” But now Leah says she can be more chill. “I can actually take a breath and just enjoy it more with my kids because I chose to fulfill my career in Pueblo.”