Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak introduced Minneapolis Fire Chief Bonnie Bleskachek at the Conversations with Al McFarlane Public Policy Forum at North Community High School last month. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak introduced Minneapolis Fire Chief Bonnie Bleskachek at the Conversations with Al McFarlane Public Policy Forum at North Community High School last month. The mayor named Bleskachek chief in a ceremony Sunday, Nov. 7, at Fire Station 5, the station where she began her career as a firefighter in south Minneapolis 15 years ago.

Minneapolis City Council must confirm Bleskachek’s appointment. The Council’s Public Safety Committee will hold a public hearing on her nomination December 15th. The full Council may act on the committee’s recommendation as early as December 23.

Minneapolis will become the third-largest fire department in the country to have a woman chief.

San Francisco is the largest municipal department headed by a woman, followed by Little Rock, Ark., according to Women in the Fire Service, a nonprofit based in Madison, Wis.

Her appointment, in large part, is a consequence of the advocacy of Black community leadership and the Black Firefighter’s Association, which sued the Minneapolis and the Fire Department for its history and practice of racial and gender discrimination against Blacks and other minorities and against women, in hiring and promotion.

Bleskachek supported and gained support from the Black Firefighters Association in promoting diversity in the department. She served on committees charged with developing a plan to diversify the department. At this time, 18% of the department employees are women and 28% are people of color. Minneapolis Fire Department has 449 employees, including about 420 firefighters, and a budget of about $40 million.

Bleskachek is a founding member of the Minnesota Women Firefighters Association, which created a successful training and mentoring program for female firefighter candidates.

She has been serving as interim chief since June, following the departure of Chief Rocco Forte. Prior to that she was a battalion chief managing a fire district with 31 personnel. She has also served the department as a captain, human resources officer and deputy chief of training.

12/06/2004

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