Chicago Fire Dept. candidates make history

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Some of the 70 candidates graduating tomorrow from the Chicago Fire Academy are making history, as women in their 40s and 50s. (WLS)

Some of the 70 candidates graduating tomorrow from the Chicago Fire Academy are making history as women in their 40s and 50s.

If you didn't catch that, this class of candidates from the Chicago Fire Academy is done!

Joy erupts after completing the academically challenging and physically grueling six-month training. But perhaps none as joyful as those who waited 20 years for this.

It was tough but I expected it to be tough and I want to be tough because I want to be ready," said candidate Gail Morris.

Twelve of the candidates graduating Tuesday applied to be firefighters in 1995. The women were part of two class action lawsuits: one for racial discrimination and another for gender discrimination. With the lawsuit settlements, they finally got their chances to be firefighters.

"I believe the only limitations are the ones you put on yourself. Although we are a little older, it is very exciting. We welcome the change," said candidate Shirley Crane McCall.

"This is an opportunity to show African-American women and all females that you can do this. We can do this at our ages. At 19, 20, 21-years-old you can definitely do it," said candidate Monica Allen.

And ready they are. These strong women in their 40s and 50s holding their own with the younger candidates.

"I feel good. I feel great," said Allen.

After graduation the women will be on probation for a year as candidate firefighters. Some may not be working for very long because, per department policy, the mandatory retirement age for firefighters is 63.

Per the lawsuit settlement, when the women do retire they will have the seniority as if they had started working years ago.

There were 52 who were part of a class action suit claiming that Chicago Fire Department testing discriminated against women. Not everyone was interested in proceeding and some did not pass the tests. 12 women remain and will now represent the class working for the CFD.
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