FORT WAYNE – Fort Waynes fire department will have its first female fire chief in its 173-year history, but Mayor Tom Henry said it was her qualifications and not her gender that earned her the post.
Henry announced Wednesday that Amy Biggs will replace retiring Chief Pete Kelly, who moved up his departure from Aug. 3 to June 29.
The city noted the department is 173 years old and Biggs is the first woman to serve as its chief, but Henry stressed that gender played no role in his decision, saying it was only a nice bonus to add to the citys diversity.
I have no doubt Amy will continue the high level of professionalism and integrity in our fire department, he said.
Biggs joined the fire department in 1995 as a firefighter. In 1999 she was promoted to captain of the fire prevention bureau and became captain of the operations division in 2001. She served there for seven years before being promoted to assistant chief, where she has overseen the departments human resources and internal affairs.
Before joining the department, the Fort Wayne native graduated from Bishop Luers High School and attended Purdue University.
Biggs, 42, said she is excited about the challenge of leading the department, and she thanked Kelly for his work.
It is an honor to have the opportunity to lead the Fort Wayne Fire Department as chief, she said. I know firsthand that our firefighters take their responsibility seriously and have great pride in how they serve the residents of Fort Wayne.
She said she doesnt expect dramatic changes within the department, although she will take the next several weeks to develop her goals for success. She will be paid $101,200 in the position.
Kelly said the work Biggs put into learning the administrative side of the department was a key factor in her selection as chief. He said she had excellent organizational skills while also being personable with the staff.
Shes got everybodys respect and trust and thats going to go a long way in this position, Kelly said.
Her support extended beyond the administration, as local fire union president Jeremy Bush said he was excited to work with Biggs, calling her highly qualified.
Shes going to be good for the fire department, I truly believe it, Bush said.
Of the half-dozen candidates who applied for the position – all were internal – Henry said Biggs stood out for her attention to detail. He noted she also had numerous people contact him privately to lobby on her behalf.
As the new fire chief, Biggs will oversee 380 firefighters and 18 stations. Only about 5 percent of the firefighters are women, according to Kelly, but Biggs said she doesnt expect any problems overseeing a mostly male department.
I think our department has been progressive for quite some time, she said.
In fact, she was hopeful her promotion would encourage more women to join the department by showing that it is a place open to women and where women can advance.
There are fewer than 40 female fire chiefs nationwide, city officials said in a written statement.