Lexington got its first female fire chief Thursday with the appointment of Kristin Chilton, a 23-year veteran of the department.
Chilton, 48, was an assistant chief until Mayor Jim Gray selected her for the top job. She was one of 32 applicants for the position.
“This is an important day for our city,” Gray said. “Public safety is a top priority for our citizens and for me. Kristin Chilton has the experience and the vision to lead our firefighters.”
Gray said he has appointed two fire chiefs during his tenure as mayor. Both were firsts for Lexington.
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Chilton succeeds Keith Jackson, the city’s first black fire chief. Harold Hoskins has been serving as interim chief since Jackson retired in January after 25 years with the department. Jackson was appointed in 2012.
Chilton said that when she was a young girl there were no female career firefighters. She visited a fire station as part of a first-aid class during her undergraduate studies at Transylvania University, and met Lisa Daley, Lexington’s first female firefighter.
Daley encouraged Chilton to sign up to ride along with emergency crews. Chilton said that one-on-one contact pushed her to apply to be a firefighter.
“She really encouraged me and talked about what a great profession it was, how every day you come to work there’s always something new and exciting,” Chilton said. “... About a year later I decided to apply and I’ve never looked back.”
In a later interview Thursday, Chilton said being chief wasn’t on her radar when she started in 1993. The focus was on “one day at a time, one promotion at a time.”
As chief, Chilton said, she planned to “continue the great service that we currently provide for our community,” but she singled out diversity as an area for improvement. She said she wanted the department to match “the city’s diverse community.” Of the department’s 562 sworn, noncivilian personnel, 14 are women. The racial or ethnic breakdown of the force wasn’t immediately available Thursday.
“The fire service, in general, has not done a good job in making the job a good career choice for men and women,” Chilton said.
Asked how she would increase diversity, Chilton said she planned to evaluate the department’s strategies, including how it recruits, and bring in people from the community to help.
Battalion chief Joe Best said he’s known Chilton for a number of years as someone who follows through on whatever she sets her mind to. Best said he was excited to see what she would accomplish.
Chilton “may be reluctant to brag” about herself, but she is more than capable to take over as chief, firefighter Jessica Bowman said.
She has “over two decades of leadership under her belt ... and is coming into this position well-prepared,” Bowman said.
Chilton, a graduate of Lafayette High School, received a bachelor’s degree in business management from Transy and a master’s in public health from Eastern Kentucky University. She is married to a retired Lexington assistant fire chief and has an 8-year-old daughter.
More about the Lexington Fire Department:
One of the state’s largest and busiest departments, Lexington handled about 47,000 fire and ambulance calls in 2015. It has crews at 23 fire stations.