CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – This Women’s History Month, the victories and barriers broken by women have become a focal point across the country.
22News had the chance to speak with two first responders in Chicopee, that accomplished something no other woman has in their departments, and are now, paving the way for women to come.
“April would have been 20 years that I actually became a firefighter here and in Chicopee,” said Chicopee Fire Department Captain Katie Collins-Kalbaugh.
“I’ve been with the Chicopee Police Department for 26 years. I started in 1997,” adds Chicopee Police Captain Holly Cote.
It’s a tale of one city, and two women, sparking change. Both became the first women to hold these titles in their departments, knocking down countless barriers along the way. Pages of pictures painting their story, one might say, her story.
For Collins-Kalbaugh this Women’s History Month she’s reflecting on two firsts, being the first female firefighter for the city, and as of this past January, the first female captain. “I found out that I had come out on top of the Captain’s list on the last time I took it, but as long as I had a good interview, I would probably end up getting promoted,” said Collins-Kalbaugh. “It was really exciting, really exciting.” In addition to being the first female captain, she is also a registered nurse and paramedic.
Police Captain Holly Cote, a master’s graduate of Western New England University, was promoted last June. The lifelong Chicopee resident told 22News what it means to serve in this role in the city she has always called home. “I was ecstatic when I got my score, I found out that I was first on the list,” expressed Cote. “To me, it’s meant so much to me be here in this city, and also be involved with my community.”
Making this experience even more special, is the bond that they share, in and out of the police and fire headquarters. They are proud mothers to two children each, and good friends, encouraging each other to continue climbing the ladder. Hoping their triumphs inspire other women to join them in this line of work, so this type of women’s history will repeat itself.
“I grew up in a time where it was kind of like, I wonder if this is something I can do? I want little girls and young women to grow up saying this is the job I can do and reach their goals so that’s what this is all about,” said Collins-Kalbaugh.
“The goal is to make sure your legacy lives on, and that you really try to help those around you, be the best officers they can be,” adds Cote.
Captain Cote told 22News that nationally only about 13 percent of women are in law enforcement. In Chicopee, about 8 percent of the force is made up of women, and next door at the fire department, it’s about half of that.