MINNEAPOLIS — Thirty years ago this month, four women did something that had never been done before.
They were the first all-female crew in the history of the Minneapolis Fire Department. All these years later, they got together again to share the highs, and lows, of such a distinction.
"The thing that stands out for me is we stood out," said former firefighter Vicki Hoff. "Maybe not directly, but there was always an eye on us."
For more than an hour, three of the four women answered questions about their job. It was part of a question/answer panel that was hosted at the Minneapolis Public Service Building.
Besides Hoff, who signed on in 1989 and eventually became a top arson investigator, there's Captain Jean Kidd. She joined the department in 1986, the same year as motor operator Mary Mohn.
Bonnie Bleskachek rounded out the crew back then, but wasn't at Thursday's discussion. She's known for being the first openly gay fire chief of any major city, but later lost the job after multiple lawsuits.
"You think, wow, it's a sense of relief that we're all together, but it wasn't," said Kidd. "It was almost a sense of, for me, the dread of more focus that was put upon us and it was."
Despite having women already on the department, all of them working together still seemed impossible.
"All of a sudden it seemed like, oh, wait, you're going to let four work together and there aren't going to be any guys and they almost, they, being the administration, didn't let it happen," recalled Mohn.
"There was a lot of discussion about that, our 'female-ness' and how we were going to make the men feel at the stations," said Kidd.
They shared stories of hurdles, but also how they jumped right over them — from discriminatory testing policies to keeping their emotions in check and having to wear gear fit for a man.
"They didn't utter a word, they just put their heads down and they did the work," said Kidd.
That determination helped blazed a trail for females. By the early 2000s, there were 70 women firefighters on the department. The MFD was considered a leader across the country back then. But now, there are only half that many and most of them could retire at any time.
"There are not any concrete hiring requirements in place that support diversity in any of the ranks of jobs for this city," said Kidd.
Sometimes, it might feel like fairness in the workplace is far away. But looking back, these women are proof at just how far we have come.
"It was, coming together with this crew, was the highlight of my career," said Mohn. "I can't think of a better career to have had."
On Friday, Sept. 23, the four will be recognized with a celebration at Station 5. Community leaders and city officials will unveil a plaque that will be installed there to commemorate their history making.
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