Breaking the Barrier

When the Naperville Fire Department was formed in 1874 it was a man’s world. Today, that world has changed, and so has the fire department’s makeup. Now, twelve of the fire department’s 200 firefighters are women.

And after years of male leadership in the Naperville Fire Department, Amy Scheller is the department’s first female lieutenant. From the day she started as a city firefighter in 1998 she knew she had to work harder and give a little extra to earn her coworkers’ respect.

“You can’t go your career 10 years and then expect guys to respect you,” said Scheller. “The best way is to be able to do your job. If you throw the ladders with them, you start the saws with them, you’re up on the roof at training resolutions working side by side, they’ve got no problem.”

In 2007, Scheller decided to take her career to a whole new height. And after three years of vigorous testing she finally landed the lieutenant position.

“The first few days were pretty entertaining; it’s like being a brand new fire fighter again,” said Scheller. “I was so nervous. Lying in the bed I couldn’t sleep because I was waiting for that first call.”

After only a few days on the job, Scheller has already received positive feedback from the guys.

“She’s a good person to work with,” said Naperville Firefighter David Walters. “She knows her job well. She doesn’t fold under pressure. I think she’ll be a good addition to the officers in the fire department.”

“I’ve been really surprised at the positive responses,” said Scheller. “I’ve gotten some really overwhelming compliments that kind of just make you happy. It’s really what you work for your entire career and some of the guys, the support that they’ve given me, has been really amazing.”

Scheller and others at the fire department hope her contributions encourage other women and girls.

“She can certainly be a good example, as all of our officers are, on what they can contribute and what they can offer the department,” said Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis. “And she’s certainly an encouragement to the rest of the females on the job and throughout the area. Certainly female firefighters can do just as good of a job as their male counterparts and I think we’ve proved that here in Naperville.”
“I love the fact that I’m able to inspire some smaller children, some girls, to really be able to go out and say, ‘You know, I can do this,’ or, ‘If it’s a career choice that I choose, I’m going to go do it,’” said Scheller. “But at the same time, I have to acknowledge the fact that I work with men, and without these men I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”

Scheller is one of more than 6,000 women firefighters in the country and only 202 female lieutenants.

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