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Mother of three Linnet Ryzel Jo is saving lives and property driving ambulances and firetrucks in Tacloban

As a motoring journalist for over 20 years, I have been given the chance to drive hundreds upon hundreds of brand new cars—from those one-person personal mobility vehicles to humongous SUVs, and even six-wheeler trucks (though, for the latter, not on public roads). And on those many occasions, those drives were always performed with the luxury of time. I had always wondered how it would be to drive “under duress”, meaning, human lives literally depended on my driving skills.

That thought has always popped up in my head whenever I let a speeding ambulance or fire truck pass by. It has certainly been on my bucket list—driving an ambulance or fire truck—but I imagine the authorities wouldn’t allow me to get behind the wheel for actual emergencies. Driving a van or a truck, with lives hanging in the balance, certainly takes some steely guts and tons of experience. And I presume that the men in charge would say gruffly, “It takes a man to do this job”.

A couple of days ago, I was amazed and delighted, not because I’d finally be doing such a thing, but that another woman was actually doing it for a living, and has performed above and beyond the call of duty.

I’m talking about Linnet Ryzel Jo, 36, an emergency vehicle operator (EVO) and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for the Philippine Red Cross (PRC). She was proudly introduced to me by PRC’s Safety Services Department team, and the subsequent stories she told me during my online interview with her justifies their pride.

Based in Tacloban City in Leyte province, Linnet has been driving ambulances as well as assisting in pre-hospital medical services, and from 2020, she has been PRC’s Chapter Service Representative of Safety Service in Tacloban. Linnet has been a trained EMT at PRC national headquarters in Manila. Before all these, she was a PRC volunteer instructor from 2014 to 2018, before becoming a project staffer under the American Red Cross from 2018 to 2020.

Her volunteer work started in 2010 after graduating from a nursing course at the Our Lady of Fatima University Valenzuela Campus. Joining the fire brigade out of curiosity, she eventually became part of the medical staff and their ambulance driver. She also volunteered at the Central Tacloban Filipino-Chinese Volunteer Fire Brigade, where she said she was first molded as a rescuer. She became her brigade’s authorized fire truck driver after strenuous training, while also being one of its medical teams’ officer in charge.

Linnet now juggles her time between her volunteer work in the Tacloban fire brigade and her job with PRC. One day she’d be rushing to medical emergencies driving an ambulance, the next day she’d be fighting fires in her firetruck. No sweat. Her driver’s license restrictions are as easy as 1, 2 and 3.

She grins ear-to-ear as she recounts those instances when big, burly men would jump out from her truck, and then bystanders couldn’t help but stare in disbelief when it’s her turn to come out, seeing that it’s a woman behind the wheel. It was awkward and embarrassing at first, but Linnet said she has grown used to peoples’ reactions.

Her one unforgettable ambulance rescue was in 2015, when she also had to help a mother give birth. Linnet had to park in a safe and well-lit area in order to properly help the mother deliver her baby. Linnet’s onboard medical team then were all male and inexperienced on such an emergency.

“It was unforgettable for me because the pregnant woman’s mother who accompanied us asked me if I could deliver the baby while driving the ambulance,” she laughed. Talk about special deliveries!

Speaking of pregnancies, Linnet admitted that she herself was four months pregnant with her second daughter when she volunteered for retrieval and rescue operations in Tacloban in the aftermath of the Yolanda super typhoon.

Being a volunteer firefighter isn’t financially rewarding, she stresses, but the simple act of saving lives and property, and being showered with “thank you” by a grateful public makes everything all worth it, she says.

Despite being on call for both jobs, Linnet says she still gets to spend quality time with her three daughters, aged 9, 7 and 4.

“Sometimes I don’t come home for long stretches of time. When I see my daughters’ reactions, that’s when I usually decide to take a few days off to spend time with them,” she says.

Not surprisingly, Linnet’s husband is also a firefighter. Her mother is an engineer at the Department of Public Works and Highways, and her father is a retired businessman. She’s the only daughter in a brood of five.

Hats off to Linnet for her bravery, composure, and mad driving skills. Apart from my idol F1 legend Lewis Hamilton, Linnet is among those very few people who are truly worthy of racing against time. In Linnet’s case, countless lives depend on it.

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