Local firefighter breaking the traditional mold

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 26, 2014

Firefighting is largely thought of by many to be a man’s profession; this was especially true when captain Cathy Hunt Burleson joined the Picayune Fire Department almost 31 years ago. 

Today, Burleson is still the only woman firefighter with the department and has earned her place to fight fires alongside the men.

Beginnings and Chance Encounters

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Burleson was born and raised in McNeil.

Her father worked on a ranch, farmed their own 40-acres, bought and sold cars and was a frequent visitor of the stockyards. Her mother worked as a waitress and stay-at-mom to Cathy and her 3 siblings, Carol, Susan and Ricky, Burleson said.

After high school, Burleson married Wilson Hunt Sr. and had four children, Wilson Jr., John, Hope and Jason.

Jason is also a firefighter, Burleson said.

Wilson Hunt Sr. passed away in 1988.

Burleson married Richard Burleson in 2011 and they have eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Burleson worked as a waitress at Evelyn’s Restaurant in 1983.

“Every evening fire chief Vaughn, deputy chief Howard and captain Mitchell came into the restaurant for coffee,” Burleson said.  “Chief Vaughn was looking for someone to clean his house and following that he asked me if I wanted to be a firefighter and I said ‘yes’.”

Proving Herself

Burleson was hired on at the Picayune Fire Department in 1983 and soon after began training at the academy.

“I wasn’t well accepted,” Burleson said. “The instructor told me a woman didn’t have a place in fire service. He made the class much more difficult.”

Burleson said the day she left the academy almost all the men told her they would fight fire with her any day.

Men in the Picayune Fire Department were not pleased having a woman trying to do a man’s job, Burleson said.

“Steve Seal and Ricky Quave took me under their wing,” Burleson said. “Once I completed the academy, attitudes changed and I was accepted, and as the years went by, I was considered one of the guys.”

Burleson said years ago, for training purposes, old houses were burned.

“At first you go in when it’s real smoky,” Burleson. “Then they set it on fire and you go in on your hands and knees practicing search and rescue. I was so nervous at first, but I told myself there was no way I wasn’t going back into that house.”

Twenty years later she made lieutenant and in 2011 was promoted to captain, Burleson said.

Taking care of her men

Burleson said she always cooks a meal during her shift for her guys and they take care of each like family.

“When they go into a burning building,” Burleson said. “They give me a badge with their names on it and when they come back out I give it back to them. That’s how I keep track of them.”

A rare accomplishment

The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians recognized Burleson for achieving 30 consecutive years as a nationally registered EMT.

“This is an honor held by few, and we are grateful for your ongoing support and dedication,” Severo A. Rodriguez, executive director of the NREMT said in a press release.

Rodriguez said it is a rare achievement that an EMT maintains 30 years of continual national registration and the citizens of the community should be made aware of Burleson’s service and accomplishment.

Burleson said she’s proud to be a firefighter and the first woman to do so in Picayune.

“When you go out and help people, put that fire out quickly and save their belongings, especially pictures, it’s very rewarding,” Burleson said.

Working with Cathy

Noel Burge has been a firefighter for the past 13 years and he said Cathy is the best captain.

“I enjoy coming to work because of her, she is the glue that holds our shift together,” Burge said.

Burge said she taught him how to be a good officer.

She cooks everyday for B shift and they all come together and eat in brotherhood and fellowship, Burge said.

“I always know she has my back and is always looking out for my safety,” Burge said.

Cathy’s son Jason Hunt is also a firefighter and said becoming a firefighter was always a dream of his.

“I look up to her for what she’s done,” Hunt said. “It’s a good thing for her to have that title of captain and female firefighter. I’m proud of her.”


Burleson said she has been blessed by the good Lord to have had and kept the job all these years.

“I give him all the praise and glory,” Burleson said. “I work with a lot of good Christian people and that really makes a difference. I can’t complain one bit.”

If there are young women out there who want to become firefighters, Burleson said the best advice is to stay in school, earn your diploma, stay in good physical shape and if firefighting is really their dream, go after with all their might.