Rock Island’s first female firefighter retires

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The Rock Island Fire Department is celebrating a retirement of a fellow firefighter, but they have a lot more than that to celebrate.

Lieutenant Suzanne Vallejo remembers her first fire,  "I just remember all this heat and fire and I'm in a hallway in between other guys thinking what am I doing here? I thought okay I'm going to do this."

Now 20 years with the Rock Island Fire Department under her belt she's ready to say goodbye. Friends, family and co-workers joined her Friday, April 18, 2014 to celebrate her retirement, but the real story is what's she's accomplished.

"I didn't want people to think that I was just there to do a man's job," said Vallejo.

Back in 1994 she was the first female to be hired in the department's history.

"I wanted to be in the same sleeping quarters as the other people because I didn't want them to treat me differently, so I think that's the kind of attitude you have to have," said Vallejo.

She will admit it wasn't smooth sailing at first.

"Had a couple rough moments in the beginning," said Vallejo.

In 2006 she was promoted to Lieutenant, proving she could hang with the boys.

"She's pretty much been in a male dominating profession but she's fit right in," said Jeff Yerkey, Assistant Fire Chief.

Not only gaining the respect of her fellow fire fighters, but also gaining some new brothers.

"She's one of a kind, that I don't think will ever be replaced," said retired Captain, Mikey Johnston.

She's now looking forward to starting the next chapter of her life.

"A lot of laughs, few tears, some sleepless nights, missed meals, but I wouldn't change any of it," said Vallejo.

Although retired she will be busy helping her husband with their business, hanging out with her grandchildren and even stopping by the station now and then.