This day, February 4th, 2015, marks the 35th anniversary of women joining the Madison Fire Department (MFD). The Department was in its 144th year in February of 1980, and the idea of women entering this "last male bastion," as it has been referred to by Rory Ward, the eldest of the 10 women in the class, made for no easy transition. Politically, the City of Madison Fire Department was under pressure to change--maybe before it was ready--but this change was necessitated by an Affirmative Action plan that mandated the Department increase its minority staffing. At this time, the idea of women in fire suppression was a relatively new concept, and some departments would not even give women an application. Denise Sullivan, a twenty-two-year-old recruit of the 1980 Class, recalls that in 1979, St. Paul, MN had denied her an application.
Nationwide, the first woman to be hired full-time on a career department was Judith Livers in March of 1974 in Arlington County, Virginia. For perspective, Chicago hired its first women in 1978, New York in 1982, and Minneapolis in 1985. When Madison hired 10 women in 1980, it is thought this was the largest percentage, and greatest number of women hired at any one time.
The Class of February 1980 was diverse and large, with 33 recruits. It was comprised of 10 Caucasian women, 15 Caucasian men, 7 African American men, and 1 Hispanic man. All of the recruits were under a microscope, but no group seemed more scrutinized than the women. It was believed by some of the recruits that there was a portion of the Fire Department, which did not want to see a woman graduate at the top of the class.
Marcia Holtz and Mary Freitag, later Sweeney, were first hired in 1978 by Madison Fire Chief Eldon Maginnis. They started an eight-week recruit academy with 11 other recruits. At the three-week mark, they were fired without warning, along with 2 men, one of whom was a minority man. States Holtz, "I didn't know we were going to be fired until I read about it in the paper." The women, along with the minority man, filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court.
During the ensuing court battle, the Madison Fire Department was going through another change: to replace their Fire Chief. In November 1978, Chief Eldon Maginnis had announced his plans to retire on his 55th birthday, August 20, 1979. By June of 1979, a new Chief was selected: a Madison native who had risen through the ranks of the MFD, Captain Edward D. Durkin.
The court case was resolved by settlement, and it was required that the three fired recruits be offered a position in the next class. The two women accepted; this was their opportunity.
When the Feb 4, 1980 recruit academy began, many people felt Chief Durkin made every effort possible to ensure that the women and minorities would succeed. Lieutenant Robert Hansbro, an African American recruit in the Class of 1980 and one of three still active on the MFD, states, "Chief Durkin said he wanted to start the base with strong candidates so that they would be around, and that there would be a foundation to build upon. He certainly didn't want candidates to get 'beat up' and leave. That is why he hired 10 women and 7 African Americans together." Chief Durkin also did not allow some of the instructors from the turbulent Class of 1978 to teach in the 1980 Class, in hopes of easing tension.
At the end of the February 1980 recruit academy, 8 of the 10 women passed, as well as all 7 of the African American men, the Hispanic man, and all 15 of the Caucasian males. The leadership of the women in the class of 1980 did not stop the day they graduated; instead, they continued to break down the barriers of the male-dominated profession. Many of the women hired in 1980 went on to become Paramedics and Apparatus Engineers, as well as leadership roles such as Lieutenants and Division Chiefs. In doing so they paved the way for many of the more recent successes of the organization today.
Today the Madison Fire Department employs 368 firefighters, 42 of which are women, which is 11.4%. The highest percentage of women in the MFD occurred 13 years ago in 2003, when there were 45 women out of 281, for 16%. From 1980 to today, the number has hovered anywhere from 3.6% to 16%. The numbers keep changing, but it is thought that among urban departments with more than 75 career personnel, Madison ranks 4th in highest percentage of women firefighters. This follows Boulder, CO at 14%, Clay County, FL 13.8%, and San Francisco 11.7%. However, several large urban fire departments have no women at all.
It is anticipated that the Madison Fire Department will start the next hiring process in the fall of 2015 when applications will be available. Check for updates on www.madisonfire.org or receive instant hiring and department updates by subscribing to our email lists at www.cityofmadison.com.
The City of Madison is an Equal Opportunity Employer, and encourages women and minorities to apply.
The Class of 1980 Women Firefighters:
Beverly M. Buhr (ret. PM), Marcia Holtz (ret. Division Chief), Pamela L. Jacobson (ret. Lt.), Jan E. Jefferson (ret. Lt.), Christine La Frenier (resigned), Barb Schmidt (resigned), Laura L. Smith (resigned), Denise Sullivan (ret. PM), Mary Freitag Sweeney (ret. Lt.), Rory Ward (ret. Lt.)
Subscribe to Email List
- Meet Firefighter Brennan Boughton
- Meet Firefighter Mike Lothe
- Meet Firefighter Mitch Hanson
- Meet Firefighter Sam Coenen
- Meet Firefighter Marshall Angst
- Meet Firefighter Brandon Courts
- Meet Firefighter Jacob Biliack
- Meet Firefighter Grahm Yahn
- Meet Firefighter Tom Shannon
- Meet Firefighter Joe Parrillo
- Meet Firefighter Ryan Dostalek
- MFD Introduces Recruit Class 7!
- MFD's Community Education Division Teaches Kids To BE AWARE
- LEARN Two Ways Out Of Every Room
- LISTEN For The Sound Of The Smoke Alarm
- LOOK: Fire Hazards May Lurk In Your Home
- First Annual Richard Garner Memorial Ride Raises Over $14,000 For Scholarship Fund
- Meet Lieutenant Zak Smith
- Meet Lieutenant Eric Mills
- We Send Our Condolences To Sun Prairie Today
- Meet Lieutenant Liza Tatar
- Meet Lieutenant David Crossen II
- Four New Lieutenants Assume Position At Area Fire Stations
- National EMS Memorial Bike Ride Pays A Visit To Station 4
- Engine 10 Helps Reunite Mama Duck With Four Stranded Ducklings
- Home Fire Sprinklers: A Small Investment That Could Save Your Life
- New Aerial Platform Ladder Truck Hits The Road On Madison's West Side
- Show Us Your Smarts: Take the Home Fire Sprinkler Quiz!
- Fire Sprinkler Protection: See the Difference!
- Hiding In Plain Sight: Choosing Concealed Fire Sprinklers
- The Truth About Home Fire Sprinklers
- Seconds Matters: How Home Fire Sprinklers Save Lives
- FREE! Madison Women In Fire/EMS Workshop
- Meet Firefighter Michael Samosky
- Meet Firefighter Nickolas George
- Meet Firefighter Desmond Leidich
- Meet Firefighter Kyle Kampmeier
- Meet Firefighter Jonathan Clinkscale
- Meet Firefighter John Clooten
- Meet Firefighter McKinnan Stamschror
- Meet Firefighter Ryan Raisbeck
- Meet Firefighter Daniel Ramirez
- Meet Firefighter Brett Bower
- Meet Firefighter Bryce Powell
- Meet Firefighter Daniel Congdon
- Meet Firefighter Larry Moen
- Meet Firefighter Charles Campbell
- Meet Firefighter Casey Endres
- Meet Firefighter Benjamin Nevarez
- Recruit Class 6 Reports For Duty
- New Solar Panels Installed At Fire Station 12
- Fire Prevention Week: Fire Prevention Quiz
- Fire Prevention Week: Easy-To-See House Numbers Help Us Find You Faster!
- Fire Prevention Week: Practice Your Escape Plan!
- Fire Prevention Week: How To Make A Home Fire Escape Plan
- Fire Prevention Week: Every Second Counts -- Know 2 Ways Out!
- Now Accepting Firefighter Applications!
- CampHERO for Women Coming Up Saturday!
- A 'Thank You' Note To Our Partners On Stratton Way
- Madison Launches 'PulsePoint Verified Responder' Pilot Program
- Mesothelioma Awareness Day a Time to Reflect on Cancer Risk, Prevention
- Meet Lieutenant Jeffery Vogen
- Meet Lieutenant Chris Hammes
- Meet Lieutenant Wes Ecker
- Meet Lieutenant Chris Carbon
- Meet Lieutenant Linnea Anderson
- Meet Lieutenant Dan Williams
- MFD Introduces Six New Lieutenants!
- Upcoming Community Events!
- ER Docs Dive Into Firefighting During 'Doc Ops Day'
- MFD Lends Helping Hand At Gilbert Brown Football Camp
- Special Delivery: “Beltline Jax” Makes A Grand Entrance
- New Lease On Life: Oregon Man Reconnects With Crew That Helped Save Him
- 235 New Smoke Alarms Move Into Sherman Terrace!
- Captain Todd Steyer Wraps Up A Fulfilling 30-Year Career With MFD
- Calling All Volunteers! CampHERO Kicks Off Its 6th Season
- EMS Q&A: Where can I learn CPR?
- EMS Q&A: Did you know MFD paramedics are also firefighters?
- EMS Q&A: What should I expect after calling for an ambulance?
- EMS Q&A: What’s the difference between an EMT and a Paramedic? How many paramedics are on duty?
- EMS Q&A: Why does a fire truck come when I call for an ambulance?
- Meet Firefighter Maj-Britt Williams
- Meet Firefighter Adam Thimmig
- Meet Firefighter Ruth Savard
- Meet Firefighter Mike Reisman
- Meet Firefighter Trent Meicher
- Meet Firefighter Jonathon McCray
- Meet Firefighter Adam Lesser
- Meet Firefighter Patrick Johnson
- Meet Firefighter Kyle Homan
- Meet Firefighter Joe Gangler
- Meet Firefighter Justin Fehrenbach
- Meet Firefighter Matthew Dykstra
- Meet Firefighter Brandon Douglas
- Meet Firefighter Tamara Dinkel
- Meet Firefighter Marta Darrow
- Meet Firefighter Davy Calkins
- Meet Firefighter Ryan Beckwith
- MFD Introduces 18 New Firefighters!
- A Greener Firehouse: How Fire Station 12 LEEDs the Way
- Meet AE Brad Vogen
- Meet AE Vince Soto
- Meet AE Chad Powell
- Meet AE Daniel Pazurek
- Meet AE Todd Mahoney
- Meet Apparatus Engineer Cole Christenson
- Meet AE Derek Brown
- New Apparatus Engineers Now Serving In Your Neighborhood!
- Dane County EMS Banquet Honors Survivors, Responders Involved In Cardiac Saves
- On This Day In History: The First 911 Call Is Placed In 1968
- PHOTOS: Getting Up Close With The Lake Rescue Team
- Sable Flames "Second Alarm" Benefit Enters Its 24th Year
- Madison's Iranian Community Comes Together To Honor Firefighters
- Building Connections, Inspiring Kids: Engine 12 At Olson Elementary School
- Welcome Home: Cooper's Hawk Returns To Willy Street
- The Results Are In: 91 Donations Collected During the “Never Forget” Blood Drive
- Meet AE Ethan Dade
- Meet AE Wade Raddatz
- Meet AE Lance Radock
- Meet AE Jacob Conner
- Meet AE Dan Smith
- Meet AE Kevin Hembrook
- National Preparedness Month: Special Needs Disaster Planning
- Meet AE Tom Winter
- Meet AE Lori Karst
- MFD Introduces Eight New Apparatus Engineers
- Reflections On This 15th Anniversary Of 9/11
- Generous Grant Brings New "Jaws Of Life" Equipment To Ladder 6
- National Preparedness Month: Creating Communication and Evacuation Plans
- National Preparedness Month: Don't Wait. Communicate.
- Project SOAR and the MFD
- “Doc Ops Day” Gives ER Docs A Taste Of Firefighter Life
- Two Years After Accident, Family And First Responders Celebrate 'A Miracle'
- Madison Fire Aims To Keep Injuries Well Under Par At PGA Championships
- “It’s Been A Great Ride," Says Retiring Driver John Lucille
- A Thank-You Gift For All To Enjoy
- “Friday Nights At the Y” Returns In 2016
- Meet Lt. Lisa Becher
- Meet Lt. Derek Teff
- Meet Lt. Casey Preimesberger
- Resources For Candidates Preparing For the Physical Ability Test
- Meet Lt. Sue Juedes
- Meet Lt. Ted Higgins
- Meet Lt. Matthew Mialik
- Meet Lt. Michael McCartney
- MFD Introduces Seven New Lieutenants
- Inside The Galaxie: Making Madison's Newest High Rise Safer For All
- Edgewood Students Donate Stuffed Animals For Kids Experiencing Trauma
- Apparatus Engineer "Recon Bob" Says Goodbye After 25 Years Of Service
- New Boat Enhances MFD Lake Rescue Capabilities
- With Gratitude, Division Chief Ron Schwenn Bids Farewell To the MFD
- New Training Technology Aims to Offer Full Immersion, Minus the Risks
- In the Midst Of Transitions, Our Crews Don't Miss A Beat
- Finance Manager Rita Johnson Retires After 44 Years With the City
- Farewell to West District Captain Tom Reiter
- Meet Firefighter Caluster Buie
- Meet Firefighter Steven Foulks
- Meet Firefighter Richard Miyagawa
- Meet Firefighter Joshua Balli
- Meet Firefighter Matthew Boyle
- Meet Firefighter Oscar Castillo
- Meet Firefighter David Bartkowiak
- Meet Firefighter Christopher Staveness
- Meet Firefighter Michael Guerten
- Meet Firefighter Marcus Bobholz
- Meet Firefighter Joshua Ramsey
- Meet Firefighter Michael Olson
- Meet Firefighter Eric Popovich
- Meet Firefighter Paul Schecklman
- Meet Firefighter Brian Tremain
- Meet Firefighter Cameron Gasaway
- Meet Firefighter Vaughn Brockel
- Why We Do What We Do: Remembering the Our Lady of the Angels Fire
- Meet Firefighter Brian Bieganski
- Farewell To AASPIRE Intern Casey Tubbs
- Meet Lt. Tim Hagen
- Meet Lt. Jeff Mast
- Meet Lt. Matt Thomas
- Meet Lt. AJ Greenlee
- Meet Lt. Chris Homman
- Join The Team Current News
- MFD Introduces Five New Lieutenants
- Saving Santa at Station 3
- MFD Mailbag: Kudos For the Crew of Engine 7A
- Madison Fire Recruit Class 4 Begins
- MFD Begins Serving Towns of Blooming Grove, Burke Today
- The Madison Fire Department Prepares For Inaugural "Shake the Lake" Event
- The Heavy Urban Rescue Team Practices Life-Saving Skills
- Safety Saturday 2015: A Day In Photos
- Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Boss Lift
- Firefighter Fun Day 2015 is Saturday, August 8
- Retired Firefighter Tim Healy Inducted Into Madison Sports Hall Of Fame
- Firefighter Ty Stebbins Sworn In
Emergency Medical Services
- A Day In The Life Of A Madison Firefighter
- Alix Olson Award
- Awards & Recognition
- Battle Of the Badges
- Black History Month
- Burn Awareness Week
- Cancer Prevention
- Community Outreach
- Dane County Public Safety Communications
- Fire Academy
- Fire Prevention Division
- fire prevention month
- Fire Prevention Week
- Fire Safety School Tours
- Fire Stations
- Firefighter Fun Day
- Friday Nights at the Y
- Hazmat Team
- Heavy Urban Rescue Team
- Hiring & Promotions
- Home Fire Sprinklers
- Join the Team
- Lake Rescue Team
- Madison Fire EMS
- Meet the MFD
- Mesothelioma Awareness Day
- MFD Behind the Scenes
- MFD Mailbag
- MFD Prevention Division
- National Preparedness Month
- Our Lady Of the Angels
- public health
- Public Safety
- Sable Flames
- Safety Town
- Shake the Lake
- The American Center
- Training & Professional Development
- UW Health
- Wanda Fullmore Youth Internship Program
- Winter Safety