Bill Kaempffer, the city’s public safety spokesman, shares this feature about city firefighter Sheilyan Vega:
Firefighter Sheilyan Vega is the first ever Latina firefighter to place first on a promotional exam and is the first Latina to serve as a pumper engineer in the history of the Bridgeport Fire Department.
Even so, Vega said she prefers to be known just as “one of the guys.”
“I never really looked at myself in that way,” said Vega. “I’ve never looked at my ethnicity, race or gender as an advantage or a disadvantage. I’ve just look at each challenge as it presents itself and work my hardest to do well.”
Vega and 10 other firefighters were promoted Tuesday to the rank of lieutenant and pumper engineer, the lifeline for firefighters in any working fire. Her responsibility will be to work the engine pump to ensure her colleagues have the water pressure they need. That is more complicated than it sounds. The position requires a level of engineering expertise.
A firefighter trains in building construction to understand and predict how fire will behave. The pumper engineer needs that knowledge and also an understanding of friction loss and other variables to account for reductions in pressure as hoses get dragged up five or 10 flights of stairs. Vega scored at the top of her class.
“She’s an excellent firefighter and I’m not surprised she excelled on this exam,” said Fire Chief Brian Rooney. “All of these firefighters studied hard and earned these promotions.”
The following people were promoted:
Lt. William Boroskey, Lt. Marcus Dierna, Lt. Jeffrey Gdovin, Lt. Joseph Kirkland, Lt. Joseph Lachioma, Lt. Louis Santiago, PE Erwin Ayala, PE Charles Deer, PE Frank Perugini, PE Sheilyan Vega and PE James Zavodjancik.
“It’s is always a proud moment when I swear in hard-working first responders,” said Mayor Bill Finch. “I know how hard they worked to achieve this. It is always a good day when people climb their career ladder.”
Vega was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Bridgeport’s East Side when she was 11.
She began working for the city in her 20s in constituent services and then as spokeswoman for the police department. He father was a police officer but her experience as a child in Bridgeport helped set her career choice.
As crime rose, property values dropped and arsons skyrocketed in the East Side in the 1980s and early 1990s. She would come outside and watch firefighters do their job. She never remembered seeing a female firefighter and wondered, as a girl, whether women were allowed on the job.
She found out differently and, when she received the opportunity, she jumped at the chance.
“I wanted these little girls to see me and say, ‘You know, it can be done,’” she said.
She served in different firehouses and assignments during her seven years on the job until she was transferred to Engine 10 on Boston Avenue. It was a dream come true. She has since been transferred to the West Side of the city.
“I wanted so badly to come to 10s. I grew up in this neighborhood,” she said, recalling her childhood. “If only for a year, I wanted to be that face for a little girl, wave to them, let them put on the helmet, let them know that this is a career they can pursue if they want to.”
She didn’t achieve it alone, Vega was quick to note. Once their daily tasks and training were complete, her supervisors and fellow firefighters spent hours in the day room and engine bay helping her prepare for the exam.
“I think they’re more proud than I am,” Vega said. “I work with a group of amazing guys and I’m grateful for it.”
But she still won’t let them open the door for her.