Meet Maria ‘Peggy’ Diaz: The First Latina Firefighter in Hoboken

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Being the first for anything is a big deal. The first-place winner, the first female council member — you name it and it’s major. Maria Diaz, whose nickname + the name she is known by is Peggy, is a born and raised Hoboken resident who became a first in our community — the first Latina firefighter in the Mile Square. She is one of the first two female firefighters in Hudson County’s history, alongside Audra Carter. Peggy was sworn into the Hoboken Fire Department on December 19th, 2002 and in May 2011, she was sworn in as a Captain, furthering her historical mark on her hometown. This is her story:

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Growing Up in Hoboken

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Peggy grew up on 9th and Garden Streets, back during a time when “you couldn’t walk out of the house without seeing someone who knew you or your family calling out your name or asking where you were headed,” as she described to us

Her mother, Santa, was a seamstress in a factory in Hoboken that is now known as the Hudson Tea building and when her father Marcelino wasn’t working in the same factory, he was a plumber. Growing up in a Puerto Rican household, she and her siblings, Juan, Peter, and Yomaira, were raised in a strict environment where religion and family were the top priorities. As one of the older siblings’ crew, it was up to Peggy to lead by example.

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She attended Brandt school from pre-k through the 8th grade and went on to graduate from Hoboken High School. When she wasn’t in school, she was often found hanging out with friends at 10th Street Park, Elysian park, or the Little League field, the three parks she was allowed to play in. In her early teenage years, she remembers, “we played arcade games at Mr. Big’s” on 9th and Washington,” now home to Pastrami House Delicatessen.

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Unfortunately, despite wanting to play sports, her parents didn’t allow her to — but that didn’t keep Peggy from running around and having fun.

Her Career as a Firefighter

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Dating back to 1992, at just 18 years old, Peggy joined the U.S. Navy. Without fully knowing what she was getting herself into, she hastily made the decision to enlist because it meant that she would have more opportunities to travel, experience different cultures, and meet new people. 

Peggy was an Airman, specifically, a plane captain. Her military basic training began and being a teenager with no athletic ability or experience in working out, reality quickly pulled the carpet from under her feet. So, she took a different path.

What stood out to her was a firefighter class she was required to take in the navy — in the event that a boat caught fire. She knew right away that was what she wanted to do with her life. 

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“While serving in the military had its challenges, I am grateful for the opportunity not only to have represented my country but learn discipline, respect, and order,” she shared.

It was those traits that Peggy would use to transition into the next phase of her life that began on December 19th, 2002, when she was sworn into the Hoboken Fire Department. 

“When I realized that it was within my reach to become a firefighter and furthermore, that I could potentially become not only the first female but Latina firefighter in Hoboken’s history, I was nervous, scared, and naive,” she explained. “As one of two females on the job, I’ve always been aware that there is a level of expectation set for us. In the beginning, it was intimidating because we’re told that young girls in the community look up to us and I had to learn to bear that in mind while on the job.”

At first, she felt like it seemed like added pressure, but she soon “realized that in life, you just have to have self-awareness and be self-assured through training and continuing your education. Being a woman and Latina, is a reminder that we’ve created a path for all young women to believe ‘oh, I can do that, it’s within my reach.’”

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While there are so many aspects she loves about her job, her favorite thing about being a firefighter is “the ability to serve and help those in need and the community as a whole. Whether it’s an emergency situation, fire, medical call, or in general. To have a community who trusts us and our capabilities is the one thing that is important to us. There is a sense of pride and duty in being an officer, first and foremost.”

A career as a firefighter isn’t one to be taken lightly, either. It doesn’t stop at putting out deadly fires, firefighters are trained to tackle all kinds of emergencies. There is rigorous training and studying involved, even after being sworn in. As technology progresses, techniques and information are being discovered which leads to courses for firefighters to take in order to further their expertise — so, essentially,  there is always something new to learn in firefighting and there truly never is a dull moment. 

When it comes to choosing your profession {and what helped her narrow hers down}, Peggy suggests, “doing your research, learning your craft and making sure it’s 100% something that you want to commit to. Most importantly, make sure it’s something you love doing because it’s the passion that will allow you to thrive. Whether you want to be a firefighter, police officer, combat pilot, or engineering, etc., if you practice and make sure you know everything there is to know about that career, it won’t matter that the field is male-dominated because you will be secure in your knowledge and expertise. Take me, although I’m not 6’2, or am 260 pounds, and can lift double my weight, like some of my coworkers, I learned how to solve the same problems by trusting my instincts and doing things my way as opposed to trying to compete or simply feel defeated. Girls, you can do anything you set your mind to if you are passionate and believe in yourselves. Be fearless.”

Life Outside of the Firehouse

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As the only female in her group, working in a t-shirt, uniform pants and boots, no makeup, and no fancy hairstyle, we wondered what steps Peggy takes to maintain her femininity on and off the job. “Being surrounded by guys all of the time in a firehouse can start to rub off on you and I was already a tomboy to begin with. It’s become important to me to make time for myself as a woman and foster my femininity. I make it a point to workout consistently and while some days I’ll do strength training, I also enjoy taking Pilates and yoga classes because it helps to center myself when I’m not in the firehouse,” she shared.

Beyond her physical activities, Peggy loves reading books like the Outlander series and meeting up with her girlfriends once a month, which is super important to her. 

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“I grew up with most of them in Hoboken, they keep me grounded. Not only is it our moment to have fun, share laughs and gossip but it gives me an excuse to throw a pair of heels on, style my hair, and put a little makeup on,” she shares.

As for the locales she frequents, with the endless amount of restaurants in town, Peggy has a few core places she likes to go to when hanging out with friends. 

“When it comes to coffee shops, my favorite is bwe kafe because it’s a great place to study, read, or just unwind and it has the best coffee in town,” she says. “I also love the food and atmosphere at O’Neill’s restaurant, as well as eating at Il Tavolo Di’ Palmisano on 7th and Clinton, owned by a great chef and former Battalion Chief, someone who I worked with for a long time. 

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Peggy is the living example that, ladies, we can do anything the boys can do. Firefighting is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It requires strength of mind, body, and soul. Firefighters risk their lives for the safety of their communities. It takes brave, intelligent, and selfless people to choose this profession. When the odds were against her, Peggy overcame the barrier of being a Latina woman in a man’s age-old profession. It’s easy to give up when you’re scared or unsure. The hard part is mustering up the strength and confidence to dive into whatever it is that gives us purpose in life. Peggy made that plunge and it has paid off tenfold. Today, not only is she an accomplished firefighter, she’s an accomplished mother, daughter, sister, and friend. 

Do you know of an exceptional woman to feature? Let us know in the comments!

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Victoria is a fourth-generation Hoboken native, BNR in the Mile Square and part-time in Jersey City. Through playing softball for fourteen years, playing the trumpet for the Hoboken High School Redwings Band, and graduating from New Jersey City University, these two cities have a special place in her heart. When she isn’t Style Assisting or volunteering at Symposia Bookstore, Hoboken Fire Museum/Hoboken Historical Museum, she’s exploring everything the Concrete Jungle has to offer. You can catch her at art exhibitions, local festivities, traveling, diving into a new book, thrifting or indulging in some form of arts and crafts.


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