Chicago Firefighter First Female To Retire
She was one of the first women to break the ranks

Updated: 10-18-2006 02:18:43 PM

Chicago Sun Times

As one of the city's first female firefighters, she easily took the heat -- battling city blazes and gender stereotypes -- while working a "man's job" for 20 years.

In 1986, Judy Brosnan was among 20 women to join the Chicago Fire Department, which today has 319 female firefighters and paramedics out of more than 4,000.

On Tuesday, the 53-year-old engineer became Chicago's first woman firefighter to retire.

As "the girl on the job," Brosnan spent much of her career as a department "oddity" who got her fair share of ribbing, along with two company citations for her part in a pair of rescues.

"I felt like [women firefighters] were under the microscope and everybody was watching," she said.

So, Brosnan worked out every day and stayed away from the firehouse sweets table to keep in shape. She bunked in the same room as the guys and refused special treatment, to earn respect.

"Guys would try to carry the hand pump -- 5 gallons of water -- and I'd say, 'I got it, I got it.' They'd help a guy even, but when they went to help me, I felt I had to do it myself," she said.


Brosnan -- one of seven children of a Chicago Police officer -- says her first search-and-rescue effort was in a burning hotel room. She found a man lying on the floor moaning, and screamed out, "I got somebody, I got somebody," with a rookie's enthusiasm.

"Afterwards, one of the officers said, 'Between his moaning and your screaming, I thought you jumped back in bed with him,' " Brosnan said with a chuckle.

She says most of the grief she got was all in fun. "My attitude was, no matter how bad it gets, I just have to deal with it for 24 hours," she said.

Brosnan says she'll miss the rush of going to a call and not knowing what to expect. But she's ready for life away from the firehouse. "One of the things I'm looking forward to [is] sleeping in my own bed at night," she said. "And not having to sleep in my clothes."