Ann Huff joined a unique group this month when she became the first woman chief of the Beaumont Fire Department. The appointment makes Huff one of four female chiefs in Texas and one of 36 in the United States.
At a meeting of the Press Club of Southeast Texas on April 17, the new chief said her 20 years with the department have her ready for the job.
Being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated profession has not always been easy, Huff said.
"There was resistance (to a woman firefighter) when I started," Huff said. "It was tough, and I had to take a lot. The first few years I was just in 'survival mode.'"
Huff joined the department in 1986 and rose through the ranks as a firefighter, public education officer, driver and operator, district supervisor and then district chief. For the last 10 years she has been chief training officer before being named as chief on March 31 by Beaumont City Manager Kyle Hayes. She is currently the only woman in the department of 229 personnel.
And while she was often viewed as an outsider when she joined, Huff said she has seen a slow cultural shift in the department over the past two decades. Continuing that acceptance of women, and all minorities, is one of her goals as chief.
"I want to try to make the department more inclusive, more reflective of this community," she said.
Since her appointment as chief, Huff has been visiting the various districts and said the meetings are going well.
"I know there will be people that don't like me, but I can't let that affect me," Huff said. "I learned from my experiences that I don't want others to go through it."
But Huff was also quick to add that the Beaumont Fire Department has "some of the best men you could ever hope to meet."
"The traditions have been so strong because these are men that are very passionate about the work they do," she said. "They will give their life for you Ã¯Â¿Â½ literally."
Huff said she shares that passion, and it has helped her get through the tough times in her career.
"I fell in love with the work," she said. "It's addictive."
The chief said she wants to work to improve communications within the department, as well as communications between the department and the community.
The firefighters' union and the city of Beaumont recently went through a few turbulent years of contract negotiations, which Huff said the department is trying to put behind it.
Balancing the needs of the public, the needs of the department and the financial constraints of the city council call for understanding and education of all the parties, she said.