Sep 2, 2013 4:02 AM by Janet McConnaughey
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - New Orleans' first female firefighter - a mother of two who got off of welfare and into a 1992 recruit class - has died of complications from cancer, Chief Terry Hardy said.
Kathy Wilkerson, 57, died Saturday in Eau Claire, Wis. Funeral arrangements were incomplete Sunday, Hardy said.
Wilkerson retired in 1997. Hardy wasn't sure of the reason.
"We graduated together out of the training school together. She was a very determined individual," he said.
She found some of the physical training difficult, he said. "But during the 5 months' training she was able to do everything that the male firefighters could do."
He said she applied through Project Independence - a state program to help welfare recipients get diplomas, child care and job training.
The 650-person department currently includes seven women, Hardy said: two captains, two operators and three firefighters.
After training, he said, they were assigned to different platoons, so he rarely saw Wilkerson.
He remembered an overtime assignment when he watched a crew and said, "That crew is doing a wonderful job. When the crew came out, the firemen took off their helmets and face gear, and (one) was her. ... It brought joy to my heart."
Wilkerson is survived by two daughters and a granddaughter.
Photo Courtesy: Dominic Massa of wwl.com
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