Meet the highest-ranking woman in the Charlotte Fire Department

City to honor first female deputy chief

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Women are breaking barriers in law enforcement, the military, and taking executive jobs in a variety of industries. But in Charlotte, we found one field that with about 1,000 operational employees, where only three percent are women.

That’s why Cindy Bonham is so unique. Thursday night she’ll be recognized in a promotional ceremony that honors her as a new Deputy Chief for Charlotte Fire Department.

Deputy Chief Bonham is the first woman to gain this rank and title. It’s one of the top four positions in the Department (Fire Chief, and then three people with the title of Deputy Chief.) She talked with Anchor Molly Grantham one-on-one before the event.

“When I was small my mom had a little sign in my room that said, ‘Girls can do anything,’” Chief Bonham said. “And I totally think if you read something enough it becomes your truth.”

Bonham, who will be 50 next month, started with Charlotte Fire Department in 1992. First call, she says, and she was hooked.

There are currently about a thousand firefighters who are operational – out there fighting fires. Charlotte Fire Department says 36 of them are women.

“And what’s sad is that is that that is about the same number as when I got hired,” Chief Bonham said. “We’ve hired some but some have retired. We’re really trying to attack that issue of why women aren’t getting into this field and why if they are, they’re not staying in it. We’re trying to figure it out.”

One solution Chief Bonham gives credit to other women in the department for starting, is Camp Ignite. That’s a free summer camp for teenage girls sponsored by the Charlotte Fire Department, where they learn the firefighting trade.

Bonham says over 27 years the job itself hasn’t been different for her. Men and women recruits have to pass the same physical test... and all sleep in their own separate, partitioned sleeping quarters. She says what was different for her was as she started moving up the ranks, her management style was more inclusive.

“It wasn’t beyond me to ask the guys on my truck, what do you think we should do?” she said. “I always tried to promote a healthy environment of four brains are better than one brain, but when it mattered and a decision had to be made, then make that decision.”

One thing Chief Bonham says has always stuck with her when she was hired was that on day one everyone was trained that they were all firefighters.

“We weren’t black people, white people, men or women,” she said. “We were all just firefighters.”

Bonham is also a mom to 10-year-old son, Noah. She smiled when talking about him.

“He’s my best accomplishment,” she said. “With this new schedule of more meetings and working more closely with the city, I have more availability on weekends for soccer games. He’s thrilled.”

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