CFD Cmsr. Annette Nance-Holt blazes trail for women firefighters: 'I definitely was not welcome'

Our Chicago: Celebrating Women's History Month

ByBlanca Rios WLS logo
Tuesday, March 8, 2022
Our Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- March is Women's History Month, and Fire Commissioner Annette Nance-Holt is making history in Chicago.

She is the first African American woman to lead the city's fire department.

RELATED: Annette Nance-Holt nominated to be CFD's first Black female commissioner

Nance-Holt has served the Chicago Fire Department for more than 30 years, breaking other barriers along the way.

As a younger woman, she said there were no female firefighter role models. Ironically, her decision to take the CFD test started with a dare.

WATCH: Our Chicago: Celebrating Women's History Month Part 1

"It just happened that I went with my then-boyfriend and his brothers, and some more friends, and took the test on a dare, recalled Nance-Holt.

"I was was very athletic, and I ran with them, and I was in great shape and I was like this sounds like a great opportunity," she said.

But once in, her journey was not easy.

WATCH: Our Chicago: Celebrating Women's History Month Part 2

"When I came in the door I definitely was not welcome," said Nance-Holt. "They put dog food in my coat, stole my helmet, tried to play silly games."

Eventually, she said she found a mentor, and the games stopped.

"This is a great career; it's something that a lot of us never think about," said Nance-Holt. "It is the best job I never planned for.

Chicago violence

But just as she blazes a trail for female firefighters, the city's top firefighter has suffered her own personal tragedy.

Her son, Blair Holt, was shot and killed on a CTA bus in 2007, while trying to shield a classmate from gunfire.

Since then, she's helped start Purpose Over Pain. The organization is made up of parents of children lost to gun violence.

She and her ex-husband, Chicago police Cmdr. Ronald Holt, also created the Blair Holt Foundation, which provides scholarships for Percy High School students. That's where Blair attended school.

"Blair was my only child. He was my dream. I just knew that he could not be gunned down this in city and that I wouldn't stand up and fight," said Nance-Holt.

And adding to her list of accomplishments, this year Nance-Holt became a member of the iHeartMedia Chicago's 2022 Class of Women Who Win.