Firefighter’s memoir burns stereotypes

Clare Frank started firefighting in California at 17.

Clare Frank started firefighting in California at 17.

From a burning fascination with fire at a young age through a 30-year career, Genoa resident Clare Frank tells a 360-encounter as a California firefighter through “Burnt: A Memoir of Fighting Fire.”

Published in May, “Burnt” is fueled with action from raging fires, car accidents, suicides and rescues lived and written by a first responder and narrated like fiction.

Across 316 pages, Frank carefully depicts the trauma and effects that comes with the job – insomnia, loss, PTSD, divorces, and addictions through a hint of levity with admirable characters all of which were based off true events and influencers throughout her career.

But some of the book’s most engaging passages ignites a greater message than a mere account about a firefighter.

“I took a subversive approach, hoping to change minds by proving (BS) stereotypes wrong to both myself and others,” she writes.

Frank started her career at 17 years old, following in her brother’s boots who told her she would be perfect as a firefighter.

“’You will love it and it will love you,’ he told me and I did, I loved it at first flame,” said Frank. “It’s challenging, there’s physicality and team work.”

As an emancipated five-foot-two minor and woman, she didn’t quite measure up to her Adam’s apple peers, but that didn’t stop her, it just motivated her more.

“The best and the worst parts are not that far apart, they usually happened within the same moments,” said Frank.

From her first push-up at Sandy Point Training Center southeast of Pescadero in 1982 all the way to becoming California’s state chief of fire protection in 2013, Frank chronologically details her transformation from a young adult determined to prove she’s more than a “pop-tart,” to a veteran no longer fighting fires and coping with the weight of three decades of duty while record breaking fires engulf her home state.

That’s when “Burnt” emerged from the ashes.

“I always knew I wanted to write, but fires are all consuming and I wanted to wait until I was retired,” she said.

After retiring in 2015, Frank sat down to write a book, but writer’s block consumed her like the fires that kept burning across the west.

“Again, I had a conversation with my brother for advice,” said Frank. “He asked me, ‘well, are you writing about the fires?’”

After that, it took her 18 months to write “Burnt: A Memoir of Fighting Fire.”

“It just flowed at that point and all just came together,” she said.

The memoir is an attempt to explain not only her desire to run towards the flames as a firefighter, but the desire to ignite and fuel a passion in herself and others no matter how unexpected or unwelcome it feels at first.

“My work is aimed at those of you wanting to kick sides out of a box someone else built for you,” she said. “People take one look at you and put you in a box, it’s up to you to buck those stereotypes. Build your own box.”

Throughout her career Frank became the state’s first and only female chief of fire protection, earned her Bachelor’s in fire administration, a master’s in creative writing and a law degree. She has lectured at colleges, universities and state and national fire conferences.

She will speak locally at The Pink House in Genoa and the Dangberg Ranch this summer. Visit for more information.


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