One of the first female fire chiefs in Illinois retiring after 20 years on the job

When did Tracy Kenny know she wanted to be a firefighter?

"My entire life," Kenny answered with a laugh. "And it’s one of those things where I just didn’t think it was going to happen. I grew up with my father saying that’s not what girls do."

Not only did Kenny grow up to be a firefighter, but she also became one of the first female fire chiefs in the state of Illinois.

Now, she is retiring after leading the Broadview Fire Department since 2015, and is setting her sights on getting more women into the firefighting business.

"I love this job. I loved waking up every day, coming here. I was fueled for this job. Serving other people."

But after 20 years as a Broadview firefighter, including the last eight years serving as chief, Kenny is saying goodbye to a job where she’s a rarity.

"At one point I was one of three. At one point, it was one. Now I am one of six female fire chiefs in Illinois. I’m proud of that," Kenny said.


At 52, Kenny said she’s being forced to retire early because she needs hip and knee replacement surgery, caused by putting too much physical stress on her body over the years to show she could be every bit as effective as her male counterparts.

"I beat myself up to show everybody I could do it. And I did. But now it’s time to fix the body."

After fixing her body, Kenny said she plans to continue working with the Fire Servicewomen of Illinois to push for more females to get into the firefighting business. Today in Illinois, 25% of the EMTs are women, but women only make up 5% of firefighters.

"We are going to teach women how to take the physical agility test," said Kenny. "Because I think that’s the hardest part. We are physical beings. We just don’t have that certain technique to pass that test. So we’re going to teach women how to pass that test and we’re going to bring more in."

Kenny said she faced harassment early in her career while working as an EMT in another suburb. But the male firefighters she leads here in Broadview say they don't care about her gender, just how she does her job.

"She was one of us," said Matt Martin, Broadview’s Deputy Fire Chief. "She’s always been one of us. She’s tough as nails."

"I meet people on their worst day, and I can make it better. That’s been the best part about this job," said Kenny.

On Monday afternoon, more than 200 Broadview residents, firefighters and elected officials gathered at the Broadview firehouse as Kenny’s last shift ended to say goodbye. Kenny grew emotional as she surveyed the crowd. 

"Looking around this room, it’s a wonderful life, because no man’s a failure who has friends."