MARION, Iowa — After about three months as interim chief and 23 years with the Marion Fire Department, Deb Krebill was named the city’s next fire chief on Tuesday. Krebill joins a rare group statewide when it comes to other women fire chiefs, a population she wants to grow.
“It’s an honor,” she said about being a role model for young girls. “I used to do some of our public education and you could see it in some of their faces. ‘Wow you’re a girl and you’re on the fire department. Wow, maybe I can do that too.’”
Statewide, Davenport Fire Chief Lynn Washburn-Livingston said she thinks she and Krebill are the only women in paid positions. Other fills volunteer roles in small departments, but a national organization that tracks the data claims more needs to be done to diversify fire stations around the country.
Laura Baker, president of International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services, said while tracking female chiefs can be difficult. The group’s most report from 2008 said among firefighters women are still under represented. The report said women make up 3.7 to 4 percent of fire fighters nationwide, but the number should be around 17 percent. A number derived from the amount of women in fields once reserved for men.
Krebill said did not encounter some of the issues other female firefighters face. She said she was “welcomed into the family” when she started in the department, which was a detour from her original plan.
“I actually had a major in criminal justice, but I found out in law enforcement that no one likes you,” she said. “I started part time in paramedic school, because I wanted a career that could help you.”
One of Krebill’s instructors was Maureen Boots, the first female firefighter hired in Marion. Boots told Krebill the fire department was hiring, but as the soon-to-be chief recalls “I didn’t know anything about fire fighting.” After some initial reluctance, she decided to take the chance.
“I loved it, asboutely loved it,” she said. “It was my passion and has been my passion ever since.”
The welcoming atmosphere made her want to stay, she said, but filling a top position was not even on her radar at the start of her career. She said at that time it was unheard of to be a female fire chief.
“I never thought of being fire chief, you just didn’t hear of female fire chiefs,” she said. “That was ok with me. The glass ceiling was still there. You just assumed that a woman would not be fire chief. You just didn’t talk about, you just didn’t think about it.”
Those thoughts only came later when she attended national training and began to acquire the knowledge and skills that City Manager Lon Pluckhahn said made her a competitive candidate. He added Krebill’s vision for the department help make her the clear choice.
The vision is focused on continuing to engage the community through a variety of events, Krebill said. Efforts, she said, can lead to greater fire prevention and deeper bonds with the community.
“We want to be more apart of the neighborhood,” she said. “We need to attend more community events ... we do that some what now, but I think we could do more.”
Krebill’s contract needs to be approved by the city council on July 7, which Pluckhahn said is mostly a formality. She will then assume her new role on Aug. 11.