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Lehigh Valley

Jackie Lilley-McCammon, Bethlehem's first female firefighter, promoted to assistant chief

Bethlehem's first female firefighter promoted to asst. chief

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Female firefighters are a rare breed.

Bethlehem now has two, and the first one in the door, Jackie Lilley-McCammon, scored a major promotion Wednesday.

It was a historic moment for Lilley-McCammon and the city.

"It's been a long 26 years, but I've made it," said Lilley-McCammon, who's now assistant chief for the fire department.

Lilley-McCammon was the first and, for 26 years, the department's only female firefighter.

"It's been a fun road, but also been a tough road," Lilley-McCammon said.

It's a road she now shares with Mary Alice Maguire, a 27-year-old woman who was hired Tuesday.

"I've wanted to be a firefighter for a long time. I grew up around the fire department," Maguire said.

Lilley-McCammon and Maguire are the only two salaried female firefighters in the Lehigh Valley.

The female shortage isn't just here. Nationwide, women make up only 3.7 percent of all firefighters.

The job can be demanding, dirty and dangerous, and women must meet the same physical requirements as men.

"I think typically, it's always been seen as male job, and a lot don't have an interest in it," Maguire said.

George Barkanic, the city's fire commissioner, said he hopes Lilley-McCammon's promotion brings more women into the firefighting fold.

"Now there's a second female. Can see it's possible and can make it if work hard and put your mind to it, Barkanic said.

"Do you think anything has changed in terms of perception from men today, as opposed to 26 years ago when you first started?" I asked Jackie.

"When I came on I was all by myself. Now, it's a fixture to have a female around," Lilley-McCammon said, when asked if she thought anything has changed in terms of perception of men today as opposed to when she first started 26 years ago.

"If she can pass the test, sure she will be welcomed into the department," said Bill Benitez, a firefighter.

"Work as a team. Do your job. Stay safe and keep teammates safe," Lilley-McCammon said, when asked if she had any advice for the next generation.

It's life-saving advice for a man or a woman.

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