Picayune’s first female firefighter retires after 35 years of service

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Thirty-five years ago, Cathy Hunt walked into the Picayune Fire Station determined to become a firefighter, but back then, women working in emergency response was unheard of.
Even after being told she couldn’t handle the work from the fire crew, Hunt was determined to show them they weren’t going to run her off. Eventually, she became the first, and only, woman firefighter at the Picayune Fire Department.
“I got a whole bunch of different looks from all of those guys. I wasn’t wanted at all, and they had no problem showing me that,” Hunt said, describing the beginning of her firefighting career.
With little help from the crew, Hunt took it upon herself to learn how to become a firefighter. She did every dirty job of the male members and taught herself the ropes to become a successful firefighter.
With determination and a strong work ethic, she gained the respect of her crew, and had two firefighters take her under their wing, one being Picayune Fire Cpt. Steve Seal.
Tuesday, after 35 years of fighting fires and 30 years of being an EMT, Hunt retired as the first and only woman firefighter to serve at the Picayune Fire Department.
“It’s bittersweet. I’ve worked my whole life so I’m not sure what the next chapter holds for me, but I wanted to still be able to get around and enjoy life after working so I am going to start with that,” Hunt said.
In 1988, Hunt’s husband passed away, putting the burden of raising her family on her shoulders, all during a time where firefighters weren’t getting paid more than $3 an hour, she said. She needed to find a second job, which is when she really dove into becoming an EMT as well.
“I would work a 24-hour shift at the fire station, then go work a 12-hour shift as an EMT. It definitely wasn’t easy, but you gotta do what you gotta do in order to raise a family,” Hunt said. “I’m going to miss it a lot.”
During her retirement reception Tuesday, Fire Chief Keith Brown spoke about what makes Hunt such a special person.
“She has had to overcome many, many hurdles and adversities in having to prove that she can do anything a man can do in a time when firefighting was seen as a man’s world. Well, she proved them all right. Anyone would fight fire with Cathy; we all know that you have our backs,” Brown said.
Throughout her first two decades as a fire fighter, Hunt did not see a promotion until Brown became the chief. On June 10, 2003 she was promoted to lieutenant.
Eight years later, she was promoted once again to captain before being promoted a final time to battalion chief in 2016.
As Hunt made her rounds during her retirement ceremony, held Tuesday afternoon, she hugged and kissed everyone on the cheek for coming to celebrate her. She also shared some kind words about Brown.
“I want to thank him for believing in me and trusting that I had what it took to do those jobs,” Hunt said. “It was hard at first, but once I was accepted, I became one of the boys and I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
Though no other females have applied to become a firefighter at the Picayune Fire Department, Brown said that Hunt has opened that door and proved that women can do anything men can.

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