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Utilities Wildland Fire Team leader wins Athena

By: Wayne Heilman wayneh@gazette.com
May 1, 2013
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photo - Sandi Yukman (right) was presented this year's Athena Award during a banquet at the Broadmoor on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. She is congratulated by last year's winner, Renee Zentz. (Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)
Sandi Yukman (right) was presented this year's Athena Award during a banquet at the Broadmoor on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. She is congratulated by last year's winner, Renee Zentz. (Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

Sandi Yukman, who is chief coordinator of the Wildland Fire Team for Colorado Springs Utilities and served on the front lines during the fight against last summer's devastating Waldo Canyon fire, received the Athena Award on Tuesday from the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

Yukman has served since 2005 on the Wildland Fire Team, which was formed to protect reservoirs and other utility property in forested areas and nearby urban areas from wildfires. She oversees many aspects of the team's physical training and was on the front lines at the onset of the Waldo fire. She helped battle the blaze as it burned into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood June 26, where it destroyed 347 homes and killed two people. Her actions are credited with helping save 16 homes on Hearthstone Lane near Chipeta Elementary School.

'I've never been on anything like the Waldo Canyon fire, ' Yukman said. 'We got to go out and do structure protection and it was terrifying and scary, but so personal since I knew some of the people who lived right in that area. It changed my life forever. '

Yukman said she was shocked to receive the Athena Award. 'I didn't prepare a speech because I have looked up to so many of the other people on the list ' of nominees, she said.

Yukman also heads the Catamount Wildland Fire Team, one of several wildland teams at Utilities. She began her career with Colorado Interstate Gas, which is now part of Kinder Morgan, and joined Utilities in 1990 as a programmer analyst. Yukman was promoted several times to analyst, customer services manager, customer services director, chief integrated resources officer and human resource general manager, a job she currently has in addition to her wildland fire team duties.

Her volunteer efforts are extensive, including serving as executive sponsor of the diversity team at Utilities.

She also is vice president of Incline Friends and has served as a board member of the Pikes Peak Therapeutic Riding Center, the Child Nursery Centers, Girl Scouts of the Pikes Peak Region, Red Cross of the Pikes Peak Region, American Heart Association and Inroads of Southern Colorado.

'Happiness doesn't make us grateful, but gratefulness makes us happy, and I am so grateful. I am honored to be in the company of so many amazing women, ' Yukman said.

'My advice to other women is to put your mouth where your passion is. Find something that you are passionate about and go for it. It doesn't take much to have an effect. '

Yukman was a finalist for the Athena Award in 2010 and a finalist for the Woman of Distinction Award from the Girl Scouts of Colorado in 2004.

She received the Community Trustee Award from Leadership Pikes Peak in 2003.

The Athena Award recognizes individuals who have mentored women and helped them reach their potential in business, and who have achieved business success and performed superior community service.

The other finalists for this year's award were Vicki Dimond of Springs Style Magazine, Stephannie Finley of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, City Councilwoman Jan Martin and Alicia McConnell of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Renee Zentz, CEO of the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, received the award last year.

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