Monday, Jun 27, 2016
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Police & Fire

Fire department marks a 1st

New assistant chief credits women who blazed path

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    Battalion Chief Verdell Franklin swears in the Toledo Fire Department’s newly promoted Deputy Assistant Chief Karen Marquardt during a ceremony Friday at Government Center.

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    From left, Lt. Michael Howe, Capt. Robert Walters, Battalion Chief Michael Nicely, and Assistant Chief Karen Marquardt listen during the Toledo Fire Department’s promotion ceremony Friday at One Government Center.

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Battalion Chief Verdell Franklin swears in the Toledo Fire Department’s newly promoted Deputy Assistant Chief Karen Marquardt during a ceremony Friday at Government Center.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Thirty years after Toledo hired its first female firefighters, the fire department promoted a woman as its first female assistant chief.

Karen Marquardt was promoted Friday from battalion chief to assistant chief during a ceremony at One Government Center.

She is now second in command to Chief Luis Santiago.

An audience of family and friends applauded enthusiastically after she took an oath.

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She acknowledged the historic achievement and credited those who blazed the path ahead of her.

Nine women in the 1984 class were the department’s first female firefighters. Assistant Chief Marquardt described herself as a big-haired high schooler back then who would later benefit from the broken barriers when she joined the department in 1996.

“It will be nice when this promotion is just about the promotion, and it’s not about the race or the gender,” she said.

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From left, Lt. Michael Howe, Capt. Robert Walters, Battalion Chief Michael Nicely, and Assistant Chief Karen Marquardt listen during the Toledo Fire Department’s promotion ceremony Friday at One Government Center.

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Mayor D. Michael Collins called her promotion a milestone.

“This is truly a proud moment for the city of Toledo,” he said, adding it is also “a statement that Toledo is a progressive city.”

Somber moments tinged the ceremony’s celebratory nature, as Assistant Chief Marquardt remembered the family feel of the memorial service to Toledo firefighters James Dickman and Stephen Machcinski, killed in the line of duty in January.

She also expressed appreciation to Peter Jaegly, who died from cancer last year. They both achieved the rank of battalion chief in 2011, and “had big plans” for their futures with the department.

Her friends and family — including Sierra Hillebrand, her partner of about eight years — also played a key part in her success, she said.

Assistant Chief Marquardt graduated from Whitmer High School and Ohio State University, and worked for years as a drug and alcohol counselor.

Her firefighting career began after she was introduced to a female firefighter from Ann Arbor.

“Once I met her it kind of got the wheels spinning, and I met some Toledo firefighters. And all of a sudden it was, ‘If I don’t get this job I don’t know what I’m going to do, because it’s perfect for me,’’ she said after the ceremony.

She takes over the assistant chief position after the recent retirement of Phil Cervantes.

Chief Santiago praised his new assistant chief, saying her “holistic approach” allows her to see the big picture with one thing top-of-mind: “What’s best for the department.”

Assistant Chief Marquardt will continue to head the department’s Bureau of Professional Standards.

Other fire department officials promoted Friday included Battalion Chief Michael Nicely, a former captain; Capt. Robert Walters, a former lieutenant; and Lt. Michael Howe, a former private.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.

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