Anne Stefaniak, City fire's first female firefighter, who joined the department April 13, 1997, is retiring.
A farm girl from Attica, Stefaniak said she grew up a bit tomboyish and thought becoming a firefighter -- with its physical work, problem-solving requirements and helping-people aspect, would suit her. She wasn't trying to do anything special.
"I wasn’t trying to cause waves or blaze trails," Stefaniak said. "I just wanted a chance to do something I thought would fit me and I would really want to do, and I was right. I love it. I still love it to this day. I’ll miss it terribly."
Yesterday, barring an emergency call between now and Saturday, was Stefaniak's last official day of duty.
She's retiring right at 20 years, she said, because it will allow her to devote more time to her youngest children, two daughters -- a junior and a senior at Batavia High School, and because of health concerns associated with being a firefighter.
"Cancer rates are so much higher for firefighters," Stefaniak said. "Twenty years is long enough to poke that bear and take that risk."
Growing up on a farm prepared her well for the job, she said.
"I’ve never been a girly girl, like prissy, do my hair, do my nails or makeup, and you definitely can’t be that way if you are in this job," she said.
She said it's always been in her nature to try to get through, get around, get over barriers and obstacles, which is part of what's involved in firefighting, but it's also a job that involves people and helping people, and that appealed to her, too.
"I like to help if I can and this gives you an opportunity to do that," Stefaniak said. "I feel really blessed."
Stefaniak said there were some adjustments members made when she joined the department and that wasn't always easy.
"I think it was rough on the guys, too," Stefaniak said. "It’s a small town and they never thought they’d have to work with a girl."
It was the older department members who welcomed her into the fold first, she said.
"In the long run, the oldest guys became my best friends because they were very much 'if you can do the job, then welcome,' " Stefaniak said. " 'If you can’t, get out.' That’s how they treated any new guy."
Since she didn't set out to be any kind of example, she just wanted a chance to be a firefighter, she didn't think much about that aspect of what she was doing, but looking back, she's proud to have been in that position.
"When people tell me it made an impression, yeah," she said. "I didn’t realize at the time or even until I hear it, but yeah. It’s probably good they didn’t tell me that I'm ahead of time because I would have felt like pressure to be that (a role model), but it was like just good to do my thing and find out after the fact."