Illinois City's First Female Firefighter Retires

Twenty years ago, when Sue Vallejo became the first female firefighter/paramedic in the city of Rock Island, Illinois, she was prepared for some resentment. At that time, the fire service was a man's profession, and women represented an estimated 2 percent of firefighters nationwide, reports Quad-City Times.

"When I started, there were still some old-timers," the 56-year-old said Tuesday. "If there was reluctance, though, I didn't see it. It wasn't voiced, and I always respected that. As long as they didn't attack me personally, they were welcome to their opinions."

She was aware some firefighters doubted her physical strength, including her ability to pull them, if needed, from a burning building. So, she did what she had to do: She proved herself.

"I always had the mindset that I would die trying, literally," she said. "I would not leave someone behind."

Her resolve was challenged more than once, and she was called upon to pull bodies - "some alive and some not" - from burning buildings.

Vallejo pointed out today's fire-service workforce responds to far more medical calls than fires. But there is no such thing as a routine call, and that was one of several parts of her job that she loved. She acquired her paramedic training several years before she applied to the Rock Island Fire Department, and the credential made her an attractive hire.

"I'd always worked in some kind of medical field: nurse's aide, pharmacy tech," she said. "I was working on a riverboat (as a medic/security) in Joliet when I got the call from Rock Island.

Read more of the story here

Correction: An earlier version of this story had set this in Rhode Island. We regret the error.

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