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Wednesday, October 01, 2014
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Published: Friday, 8/1/2014

Climbing up firefighter ladder

Cooper becomes 1st black woman promoted in city

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo Fire Department firefighters, from left, Christopher Burns, Joseph Mazur, and  Lolita Cooper stand during their promotion ceremony. Toledo Fire Department firefighters, from left, Christopher Burns, Joseph Mazur, and Lolita Cooper stand during their promotion ceremony.
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It took 177 years, but on Thursday the Toledo Fire Department promoted a black woman for the first time.

“Why it’s taken so long, I don’t know,” fire Chief Luis Santiago said during the promotions ceremony.

Lolita Cooper, a 13-year veteran of the department, was promoted from private to lieutenant. The department also promoted Joseph Mazur to lieutenant and Christopher Burns to captain.

Lieutenant Cooper gave thanks to energy drinks and licorice for getting her through long nights of studying.

“I can’t overstate how much work goes into it,” said Lieutenant Cooper’s husband, James Cooper. The couple have one son, 16-year-old David.

“I’m so proud of her.”

Lieutenant Cooper was called a trailblazer and a role model. She planned on neither, but said she’s ready to be both if it means more young girls who dream of being firefighters and paramedics take the steps to realize their goals.

“I take it [the promotion] with the utmost importance,” Lieutenant Cooper said. “And being the first African-American woman to be promoted, I take with the weightiest responsibility.”

Lieutenant Cooper said she wanted to become a firefighter after watching her brother, Roy Catchings — a 30-year department veteran — do the job.

Christopher Burns, who was promoted from lieutenant to captain in the Toledo Fire Department, is pinned by his son, Aiden Burns, 9, left, and his father, Ed Burns, center. Christopher Burns, who was promoted from lieutenant to captain in the Toledo Fire Department, is pinned by his son, Aiden Burns, 9, left, and his father, Ed Burns, center.
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Lieutenant Cooper is one of only 56 women in the department, according to the fire department.

Another of those women, Pvt. Gina Shubeta, was in the same fire class as Lieutenant Cooper, and the two, who were also classmates at Rogers High School, have become close friends.

Private Shubeta said that Lieutenant Cooper will “make an impact on our city in a positive way and will show all girls of beautiful colors that they can someday help make a change in our city for the better.”

Lieutenant Mazur said he would never have made it through studying for the promotions test if it were not for his “awesome, beautiful wife.”

He also said that his mother and his mother-in-law helped with many prayers.

“I had heavy hitters in the prayer department,” he said.

While studying for the captain’s test, now-Captain Burns would shut himself inside his bedroom looking for a quiet place to read. His young son would often peer inside, then try to drag out his dad so they could play.

Sometimes when his dad needed more study time, the youngster would bring his toys into the bedroom and play next to his father, Captain Burns said.

“He just wanted to be with his dad,” the captain said.

He then added that with the studying and promotions behind him, the two can play.

After the promotions, waiting to talk to Lieutenant Cooper was Private Judy Imhoff. In her hand was a plastic bag with a five-pound plastic container filled with Twizzlers, the lieutenant’s candy of choice while studying.

“That’s for captain,” Private Imhoff said.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.



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