Fewer than 4% of all firefighters are women, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and even fewer are leaders in the industry.
But the fire chief in the city of Harlan, Kentucky has been breaking barriers for decades.
“It’s a good feeling to know I was able to accomplish these things,” said Chief Linette Hutchison, “It’s not to brag. I don’t like to brag.”
Chief Hutchison does have something to brag about. She’s the longest serving female fire chief in the state of Kentucky. She’s also helped the department gain state-of-the-art equipment through grants, saving money for the small city.
When the mayor named her chief 15 years ago, the department was in a 900 square foot metal building that couldn’t hold the department’s ladder trucks.
“It’s worked out really well,” she said.
“She keeps up with the guys and everybody respects her,” said Assistant Chief James Billings. “She’s very dedicated to this service.”
While things are going well now, getting to this point, wasn’t always easy.
Early on, she remembers hearing negative comments from firefighters at other departments.
“I just ignored it. I don’t have time for it. Your gender or sex should have no bearing on what you do. It’s the willingness you have to do it,” she said.
She couldn’t ignore what happened the night she became chief: nineteen firefighters resigned.
“I get a call [saying] you need to come to the station, there’s all this turnout gear in the middle of the station,” she said. “They decided they weren’t going to work with me. These were people I considered my brothers and my friends, and family.”