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First Black female fire commissioner nominee awaits City Council approval

Fire department veteran Annette Nance-Holt’s day has finally come after nearly 30 years of climbing the ranks in the Chicago Fire Department. Last week, Mayor Lori Lightfoot nominated Nance-Holt as the city’s first Black female fire commissioner.

All that stands in her way is approval by the City Council, but sources say that is likely to happen. The mayor said Nance-Holt’s pending confirmation will be “yet another crack in that glass ceiling.” The City Council is expected to vote on the nomination May 26, 2021.

“I know a thing or two about firsts, so Madam Commissioner, welcome to the club,” said Lightfoot, who is the city’s first Black woman and first gay person to serve as Chicago’s mayor.

In a statement, Nance-Holt said, “The Fire Department must have membership and leadership that mirrors the communities it serves every day. As a child, I never laid eyes on either a female firefighter or a firefighter of color.

“There were no role models who looked like me, and so I never thought that becoming a firefighter, which was my dream, would be a possibility for me. As fire commissioner, I intend to show the next generation of young Black women that they, too, can achieve any and everything they set their minds and hearts to.”

In announcing Nance-Holt’s nomination, Lightfoot said, “Commissioner Holt has more than three decades of proven leadership and a passion for public service that makes her the perfect fit for this role.

“Furthermore, in a time where more work remains in order to eliminate discrimination, racism, and sexism from the firefighter profession, Commissioner Holt’s history-making appointment as the first woman and Black woman to lead as Fire Commissioner couldn’t have come at a better moment.

“I want to congratulate her on formally and permanently stepping into the role and look forward to seeing how she builds upon CFD’s long-standing reputation as the finest in the nation.”

A Chicago native and 31-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department, Nance-Holt, 56, was appointed the department’s No. 2 official in 2018 by former Commissioner Richard C. Ford II. He was the second Black chief in the department’s history after Cortez Trotter served as first Black commissioner in 2004.

Nance-Holt, as deputy fire commissioner, led the department after Ford retired on April 2 upon reaching the department’s mandatory retirement age of 63.

Nance-Holt’s 16-year-old son Blair Holt was killed in 2007, when he shielded a classmate from gunfire on a crowded CTA bus. Michael Pace, a member of a gang, is serving a 75-year prison sentence for killing the Julian High School honor student. Nance-Holt subsequently co-founded the group “Purpose Over Pain” to help mothers who have lost children to gun violence.

Nance-Holt and Blair’s father, retired Chicago Police Commander Ronald Holt, became prominent gun control activists and advocates for crime victims after their son’s death.

Her appointment comes as a recent Chicago Inspector General audit found that CFD rules designed to prevent discrimination and sexual harassment are “insufficient.”

The fire department, which has over 5,000 members, is 90 percent male and 66 percent white. It has been sued many times by prospective, current and former members who allege they experienced discrimination and sexual harassment on the job.

Approximately 16 percent of firefighters and paramedics are Black, and another 16 percent are Latino. The city’s population is approximately one-third white, one-third Black and one-third Latino, according to census figures.

The recent graduating class of paramedics that were honored on May 8 was 60 percent white and 69 percent male.

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