StartTV’s My Start Story is honoring fire safety professionals and first responders for their commitment to keeping communities safe during Fire Prevention Week. Join us the week of October 6 as we recognize and thank our heroes for their service.
Annette Holt never knew a female firefighter when she was growing up; nor had she ever met an African-American firefighter. That didn’t stop her. She not only became a firefighter, but climbed the ranks and was recently named First Deputy Commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department, the first woman to hold this title. From her position, she serves as a positive role model for young girls and women, encouraging them with the enthusiastic message, “You can be like this, too! Girl power!”
Brenda Berkman is a pioneer and a leader for gender equality. When it appeared that she would be barred from achieving her professional goals, Berkman brought a lawsuit against the City of New York to open up the NYFD to women. In 1982, Berkman went on with 40 other women to become the city's first female firefighters. Her win was just the start of her mark on history; she used this fuel to found and become the first president of the United Women Firefighters, winning the Susan B. Anthony Award from the National Organization for Women. She later retired as Captain with the New York City Fire Department.
Chris Linkletter is the first woman to ever be appointed to the position of Section Chief in the Lifeguard Division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. It wasn’t an easy feat to accomplish. “Sometimes you have to practice more and prove yourself in a male-dominated field,” she admitted to StartTV. Linkletter enjoys the competition and outshining any peers that try and take her on in their annual training.
Eleni Pappas was wrapping up her bachelor's degree when she was inspired to join the fire department. The acquittal of four police officers in the beating of Rodney King caused civil unrest in 1992 Los Angeles. She noticed that firetrucks continued rolling up and down the streets, keeping dozens of fires at bay. Pappas went down to the closest firehouse she found and said, “I'd like to become a firefighter.” In August 2018, she made history by becoming the first female promoted to Assistant Fire Chief in LA county.
Juanita Silva became a fire investigator after having a successful career as a firefighter, changing the way she looked at fires from how to put them out to how they started in the first place. Silva is now the only female fire marshal in the Chicago Fire Department. “You can't sit around and wait to be asked to do anything,” she shared with StartTV. "If you're that little girl out there thinking that one day you might want to be a firefighter, you can. Look at me."
Michele Martinez was managing life as a single parent when she responded to a lifelong calling to save lives. Over fifteen years later, she is still working as a paramedic with the Chicago Fire Department. Martinez also contributes to NBCUniversal's Chicago Fire as a consultant to writers, directors and actors about paramedic skills, procedures and policies.
Vicky Hernandez loves being a part of the action, though being a paramedic field chief in the city of Chicago isn't an easy job. "You have to come at things from so many different angles," she says. "Because knowledge and understanding makes you a better caregiver." Hernandez knew she made the right call from her very first day. She told StartTV, "I remember going to bed at the end of the day, thinking, 'I can do this. I can do this forever.'
Want to dig deeper into these amazing stories and more? Check out all of these My Start Stories here and learn just how these (and many more) incredible women made their start.
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