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Cleveland firefighter charting new course few women have traveled at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport

Posted at 6:20 PM, Jan 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-17 18:57:39-05

CLEVELAND — For the first time ever, the new captain of the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport Fire Team is female.

It's now 2020, so some might wonder why this is a big deal. Well, statistics show in the U.S. just 7 percent of firefighters are women.

"I hope to see more diversity in the fire service. It's time we move the fire service forward," said Capt. Karen Moleterno, Cleveland Hopkins Airport Fire Team.

With her recent promotion, Moleterno hopes to continue changing the face of fire departments.

"I started out in a time when there really wasn't a lot of girls that wanted to do it. I just think young girls out there, if you want to do this job, you just have to go for it. Don't let anybody stop you," Moleterno said.

Breaking through a field dominated by men has not always been the easiest.

"A lot of times I'm the only girl in the room. Some people have tried to throw up roadblocks along the way, but I see it as a challenge," Moleterno said.

Moleterno's passion for the profession ignited when she became an explorer cadet at age 15.

"Chester Township, I'm still there and the assistant fire chief part time," Moleterno said.

She landed with the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting team 16 years ago.

"Working at an airport do you have to train for aircraft emergencies,” Molterno said.

That specialized training added a twist you don't find at a traditional fire station.

"Large amounts of fuel, mass casualty incidents. It gives you variety and I think that's what drew me to the airport —the variety," Moleterno said.

The airport department has 55 firefighters— and only five of them are women.

"I don't see a lot of girls trying to do this profession," Moleterno said.

Moleterno isn't sure why that's the case.

"I don't know if they believe that they cannot or they don't want to," she said.

Moleterno thinks it comes down to recruiting, which right now may be falling short.

"Maybe it's my job to reach out to the youth and get to the younger generation of women," Moleterno said.

In her new role, the dedicated public servant is sharing her story of success so that in 10 years becoming the first female captain of a fire department is commonplace.

"I don't think it's rare, I just think it's different. For me, I never noticed the difference. Other people pointed it out to me. I never let it stop me," Moleterno said.

RELATED: Cleveland Hopkins International Airport has first ever female captain