SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — A Springfield firefighter made history when she was sworn into the department.
Chanel Jackson was born and raised in Springfield. After serving in the Marine Corps, she returned home. Now, she is officially a member of the Springfield Fire Department.
Jackson knew she wanted to be a firefighter when she turned 19 years old. She found the variety of ways that firefighters could help people to be appealing. Last week, she officially achieved her goal.
“I just really have always enjoyed helping people, you know, really any way that I can,” Jackson said. “And I felt like this was a really good way to kind of reach out and do different things for the community and things like that.”
Jackson is one of a class of 14 new recruits for the Springfield Fire Department. But from her very first day on the job, Jackson already made history: she is the first Black woman to be a firefighter in the city’s history.
When Springfield Fire Chief Ed Canny told Jackson, she didn’t believe it. Once it settled in, she thought about why it could be the case. Jackson said that barriers don’t exist within the department itself, and that it’s the perception built over years.
Springfield Fire Chief Ed Canny said the department puts a big focus on minority recruitment, and a big part of that is changing the perception of firefighters.
“I think people have not felt that firefighting is a profession necessarily for them, and so we’re trying to open it up and explain what it is that firefighters do,” Canny said.
He thinks that barrier is going away slowly.
“The stigma that it was a predominantly male profession has gone away. Many fire departments now have female firefighters.”
Jackson thinks it takes more than just the department ramping up recruitment efforts to get people of color into these fields.
“If you see a job that doesn’t have anybody that looks like you and you’re interested in it, it’s probably not because they’re not going to be accepting of you. Because I’ve been extremely accepted by everyone that I’ve come into contact with,” Jackson said. “It’s just probably because nobody’s taken that step and gotten in there. So just take the step.”
Jackson’s first day on the job gave her the variety she was looking for: she helped put out a small house fire, and helped deliver a baby.