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posted: 3/28/2013 8:54 AM

Farmington hires 1st female firefighter

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  • Makensie Balagna, the first female firefighter with the Farmington Fire Department in Farmington, Ill.

    Makensie Balagna, the first female firefighter with the Farmington Fire Department in Farmington, Ill.
    Associated Press

Associated Press

FARMINGTON -- Makenzie Balagna is the first female firefighter on the Farmington Fire Department.

Her doting dad isn't particularly worried.

After all, it was his idea.

Like many a small-town girl before her, Balagna figured she'd finish school and skip off on her own. It wasn't the greatest economy in the world when she graduated from Monmouth College in 2009, but she got a job as a chemist for Monsanto in Muscatine, Iowa.

"I thought I was ready to move away," the 24-year-old said. "I missed everybody. I missed being home."

When she came back, she came back big-time. She got a job as a contract chemist at Volt Workforce Solutions in Mossville. Then she not only moved home to Farmington, she joined her father as a volunteer firefighter.

"I guess I never really considered it an option," she said.

Dad had. Keith Balagna has served with Farmington firefighters for 22 years. When the group put its first ad in the local shopper, he's the one who pointed it out. Firefighting does run in families -- check the roster on just about any department. But father-daughter combinations remain relatively rare, and family connections don't guarantee acceptance.

"Everybody has to be OK with it," Keith Balagna said.

It's definitely team work. In a volunteer department, whenever the alarm goes off, people scramble. As a self-employed contractor, Keith Balagna can do that during the day when many people can't. It has always been a serious commitment, but he said he is happy to serve as a form of payback -- his mother was killed in a car accident in 1980. But it can be tough, and Farmington's 24-man squad wants to be ready for upcoming retirements. Keith Balagna is only 49, but he's giving it some thought.

"It's time for some new people," he said. "Thirty years of volunteering is a long time."

On the other end of the family circle, Makenzie Balagna will start by doing her volunteering at night -- not that she can do much yet. She is one of three new firefighters who are on probation until they complete emergency medical technician (EMT) training. It's another big commitment . and that's one of the reasons for the ad. Probation lasts a minimum of six months, and EMT training won't start again until next fall. The department hoped women would apply, particularly nurses or those with medical training, but Makenzie Balagna was the only one.

It's getting hard to find people," said Fire Chief Anthony Scapecchi. "To keep your license, it's 120 hours of EMT training every four years. A lot of people don't have the time."

Scapecchi said Makenzie Balagna only has been on two calls so far, but he thinks she'll do "just fine" because she's got the right personality for the job.

"That's what we want," the chief said.

She's supposed to stay out of the way, watch, ask questions and do what she's told. No breaks, not even from Dad.

"That's the way everybody is when they start," Keith Balagna said.

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