Twin firefighters pose in front of a fire truck

Credit: Karin Higgins/UC Davis

Cara Martinez, right, is one of UC Davis’ newest firefighters. She completed her probationary period in February and now works alongside her identical twin sister, Meggie Elledge. These photos were taken in early March.

They grew up as tennis doubles partners, were co-captains of their college soccer team, went into the same career field, gave birth to daughters in the same four-month span and then had sons within five weeks of each other.

And the only way to tell them apart is the absence of a mole or the color of their wedding rings.

One of UC Davis Fire Department’s newest firefighters is Cara Martinez, who has been on the job for one year. Among her co-workers is her identical twin sister Meggie Elledge, who has been here two years.

They said they don’t get tired of the typical “twin” questions on subjects like switching places as kids (they only played tricks like that a couple times) or who’s older (Martinez, by two minutes). They spent nine years in different parts of the state, and Elledge said during that time she missed hearing those questions.

“It’s how we identify,” she said. “She’s part of me and I’m part of her.”

They both became firefighters after leaving jobs they’d held in civil engineering for nine years — Elledge in road design and Martinez in public infrastructure. They acknowledged it was a risk and a big change, but they wanted careers that matched a trait they both have: “physical and mental drive,” the pair said, with Martinez finishing Elledge’s sentence.

In fact, the two had just finished a 200-mile bicycle ride down the California coast, and were in line at a Panda Express near Solvang when a fellow diner introduced himself as a local fire chief and encouraged them to check out the fire service if they enjoyed physical challenges.

His suggestion eventually stuck, with the sisters talking with friends who worked in firefighting and doing ride-alongs to learn more about the job.

They credit UC Davis Fire Department for valuing their potential as contributing members to their department as well as the Sacramento Fire Academy for giving them the instrumental firefighting skills they would eventually need.

Cara and Meggie inside the UC Davis fire station
Meggie Elledge, left, and Cara Martinez, right, photographed here in early March, are used to being recognized as twins and missed it during the nine years they spent in different parts of California.
Credit: Karin Higgins/UC Davis

“I entered the fire academy as green as green could be,” Martinez said. “[We] didn’t have any fire background or skills and we were determined to become qualified firefighters. Our training will never stop.”

And they’ve already put those skills to the test. Elledge was part of a four-person UC Davis strike team that saved a number of homes during a weeklong trip to assist in the fight against last fall’s Kincade Fire in Sonoma County — including one situation where Elledge controlled the firehose’s nozzle when a home was surrounded by flames. Martinez has also been called to assist with fires near Redding and Los Angeles, and said on her first strike team the other firefighters on the drive to the Red Bank Fire teased her because every time they looked at her in the back seat, she was beaming with excitement.

[Cara Martinez and Meggie Elledge]
Meggie Elledge, left, and Cara Martinez, right, photographed here in early March, are used to being recognized as twins and missed it during the nine years they spent in different parts of California. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

“I get that feeling on every call I go on,” Martinez said.

Elledge said she feels gratitude for finding a job that makes her so happy and that she can be proud of.

“When I’m driving home after each shift, I’m pinching myself,” she said.

They also said they appreciate having a direct relation and impact to the community they serve. Another benefit is a better work-life balance. The two-day shifts are long, but are followed by four days off, which they can spend with their husbands and 3-year-old sons and 6-year-old daughters. They don’t work the same shift, so can help out with each other’s family duties.

“When this mom’s not around I get to step in,” Martinez said. “I support her family as she supports my family.”

Sometimes that leads to a little confusion.

Elledge said her daughter sometimes asks, “Are you my mommy, or are you Auntie Cara?”