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Lake County women firefighters honored for service

North Chicago Fire Chief Dell Urban. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

North Chicago Fire Chief Dell Urban. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 22, 2013 2:42AM

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka honored women in the fire service this week as part of Women’s History Month.

A number of Lake County firefighters and paramedics were honored at the Thompson Center in Chicago on Tuesday, March 19, including the county’s first full-time, female career fire chief, Dell Urban, from North Chicago.

While presenting personalized proclamations, Topinka — the first woman in Illinois history to serve in two statewide offices — noted that women have historically struggled to break into the ranks of firefighting. She applauded the tenacity and courage of women who have not only entered fire service, but risen to the highest ranks of their departments.

“For years, women interested in fire service have been told they need not apply,” Topinka said in a prepared statement. “But you broke through that barrier, rose to the highest ranks of your departments, and in the process showed women and girls everywhere that anything is possible if they work at it. I thank you for your service.”

Urban said she was honored to receive the citation honoring her 25 years in the fire service and now as chief.

“It was nice to be honored by someone of her stature,” Urban said. “I feel she was a trailblazer herself.”

Topinka highlighted the many traditional obstacles that stand in the way of women in fire service — from a male-dominated culture to practical issues within departments, including sleeping quarters and physical examinations created with men in mind.

“You are trailblazers, and you make us all proud,” Topinka said in the statement. “You have brought change to the culture of fire service. And your efforts and sacrifice have cleared a path for future generations of female fire service leaders.”

The U.S. Department of Labor reported 13,700 female fire professionals nationally in 2011, representing 4.5 percent of those in fire service. The first known professional woman firefighter was hired just 40 years ago. The city of Chicago hired its first female firefighters 27 years ago, and in 2011 reported having 116 women in its ranks — representing just more than 2 percent of the department.

Other local women in the fire service that were honored included: Winthrop Harbor Fire Department Captain, Abbot Fire Department Lieutenant and Fire Service Women of Illinois President Alisha McCoy, Woodstock Fire/Rescue District Capt. Karen Bush, Buffalo Grove Fire Department Battalion Chief Wendy Durkin, Richmond Township Fire Protection District Capt. Paula Gallas, Winthrop Harbor Fire Department Capt. Shauna Haske, Newport Township Fire Protection District Lt. Kelly Kirschhoffer, Elburn and Countryside Fire Protection District Lt. Lisa Schopp and Spring Grove Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Julie Tobiasz.

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