More than four decades ago, history was made at the Jackson Fire Department. One woman’s courage led the way for those who protect our communities today. “The April Fool’s Class they called us,” recalled Lue Mallett. “The lucky 13. It was 12 guys and one lady.” That lone lady Mallett was referring to was herself, and she was in the 1977 Jackson Firefighters Class.
She holds the distinction of being an African-American, and the first woman in the department. The Lanier High School and Jackson State University graduate went through the rigorous training on a dare, when jobs became open to women. “The first night I spent there they short-sheeted me,” said Mallett. “You know, like an initiation, but they never treated me any differently because I was a woman.”
But the then 22-year-old did face challenges. She was stationed at the Central Fire Station, working with only one other African-American. “The only problem I had was being a female. They didn’t think a female was capable of doing the job as a man, but I proved them wrong,” added the former firefighter. “Walter Peyton, Robert Breazeale, they had me when they knew I was becoming a firefighter, they took me to the gym at Jackson State and had me pumping iron.”
Jackson Fire Department Chief Willie Owens was already with the department when Mallett joined. “She wasn’t just a regular female. she had the strength, the endurance and she had the desire to become a firefighter, and she did all of that even with donning all the gear she had to put on,” said Owens.
The trailblazer worked for more than three years with JFD, before marrying and moving to California. “Anybody, regardless of age or color, can do anything they want to,” said Mallet. “So happened I opened the doors for women to venture into another aspect, where they are capable of doing this, and that nothing can hold anybody back.”
The 64-year-old returned to Jackson in the 1990′s to care for her ailing mother, Willie Pearl Mallett. She credits her mother with helping her to become a firefighter.
In 2006, a fire at Mallett’s home destroyed all the pictures and memorabilia from her historic journey as a firefighter.
We honor you, Lue Mallett.