MERIDEN, Conn. (WTNH) — When Maggie Bender was a young girl she had a few career choices in mind.
“I thought it would be cool to be the president, an astronaut, an Olympic athlete,” said Bender.
Her path would take her in a much different direction. She would become a firefighter in Meriden. He brother, who was already a firefighter, convinced her to apply. After passing all the requirements, she was hired in April 1985.
“Every new firefighter has to prove himself no matter what,” said Bender. “I kinda had an extra step.”
That extra step was a pretty big deal. Bender was the first female firefighter in the city. A profession dominated by men. Assistant Fire Chief Mark Finnegan has worked with her for 28 years.
“I mean the role model that she’s been since she came here has been not only for female members, but men as well,” said Finnegan.
However, Bender will tell you it wasn’t always easy.
“You know I could’ve gone in and saved your wife, your new baby and dog and they’d still say I don’t think she’s got it,” said Bender. “After a while you would realize I can’t change their minds. I can’t make them see anything different. And I’m not going to do it anymore. I’m just going to do my job.”
Doing her job is what earned her a great deal of respect among her co-workers. Many of whom were sad to see her go when she retired earlier this month after 31 years on the job.
“Her care for the general public has been second to none,” said Finnegan. “She’s really been a tremendous asset to the department.”
Showing anything is possible, regardless of gender.
“It seems like yesterday I walked in the door and I’m walking out,” said Bender. I never thought I was going to be one of those old guys and now I am.”
Bender was the only female within the department for the first 17 years of her career. After that a second female was hired. That firefighter still works for the city.