From farm girl to Peterson's first female deputy fire chief

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – A newspaper clipping from April 12, 1979 memorializes Peterson AFB’s first female firefighter, Deputy Chief Cindy Litteral. Litteral began her career as an enlisted Airman and retires from her civil service career as one of only 30 female deputy fire chiefs in the country. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lori O’Donley)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – A newspaper clipping from April 12, 1979 memorializes Peterson AFB’s first female firefighter, Deputy Chief Cindy Litteral. Litteral began her career as an enlisted Airman and retires from her civil service career as one of only 30 female deputy fire chiefs in the country. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lori O’Donley)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Cindy Litteral, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron deputy fire chief, poses for a photo behind her desk Oct. 21, 2015. Litteral is scheduled to retire Oct. 30 after more than 30 years of service. She is the first and only female fire officer to receive the Department of Defense Fire Officer of the Year award. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lori O’Donley)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Cindy Litteral, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron deputy fire chief, poses for a photo behind her desk Oct. 21, 2015. Litteral is scheduled to retire Oct. 30 after more than 30 years of service. She is the first and only female fire officer to receive the Department of Defense Fire Officer of the Year award. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lori O’Donley)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- She threw darts at a newly installed dartboard on the operations floor competing with her colleagues. She would call out "chic," as a way to refer to herself in third person, with each miss. Though the times she would call out chic would lessen, the name would stick with her for a career.

Cindy Litteral, or Chic (to only her closest colleagues), is the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department deputy fire chief and will retire on Oct. 30.
From humble beginnings in Manchester, Mich., Litteral's career and dedication to the fire department spans more than three decades.

In the small village of Manchester she became very close to her handicapped uncle, who was a retired cop and retired Soldier. Her father, frustrated with her mischievous older brother, told her she needed to be out at 18 [years old]. Her first thought was to join the Army because her uncle would talk about the Army all the time.

She admits first testing for the Army in Ann Arbor but not passing the entrance exam. Litteral then went to the Air Force recruitment office where she passed and was given several Air Force Specialty Codes from which to choose from. Though the fire department was sixth on the list, she chose the fire department because she did not want to wear a skirt.

Her first assignment brought her to Peterson Air Force Base. At 18 years old it was challenging to navigate the career field and the personalities within the station. She was not here long before she was sent to Korea for a remote tour.

In Korea, Litteral described people within the department as more close-knit compared to her previous assignment. This can be attributed to their busy mission, isolated location, and that they worked closely together. Despite differences between assignments, she was determined to do her job, and she was determined to honor her word.

When Litteral was in Korea, she expressed intentions to get out at the end of her enlistment and that's just what she did. She completed her first enlistment and looked for other opportunities in the Colorado Springs area.

While waiting for the right opportunity, she did drywall work for a friend. She chose not to pursue employment through the city or state and applied for civil service positions because she was comfortable with the Air Force. About a year later, Litteral was hired to work as a driver operator for Peterson AFB Fire Department, this time as a federal employee.

She took her time, starting in an entry-level position, to learn each level of the fire department without jumping tracks. This she believes was essential to her success.

Part of her success, in the department, was responding to emergencies while working the operations floor. There are a multitude of jobs within the fire department. However, none are more important than putting time in on the operations floor. This is how a firefighter typically earns respect from their peers, Litteral did it for 12 years.

"I think that's why I'm good at what I do," Litteral said. "I've worked really hard."

"Chief Litteral is passing along a legacy that will continue to challenge future firefighters to build upon and improve for years to come," said M. Craig Powell, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department assistant training chief. "Our next generation of fire service leaders has a huge role to fulfill to continue to mentor others and improve emergency response procedures and capabilities."

Litteral has seen it all, but even after 30 years it still surprises her there are people unsure how to act when they see a female deputy fire chief. She is unfazed and believes everyone can change, she said.

"I've had many, many people tell me, at first they didn't know how to take me, and then after they got to know me they felt that I was the best supervisor they've ever had," she said.

A career as long as hers naturally has its peaks and valleys. Yet despite trying circumstances throughout her career, she takes pride that she hung in there as long as she did.

Paul Buyalski, 21st Civil Engineer Fire Department station captain, spoke about Litteral being a pioneer, one that can serve as inspiration to his two daughters.

"She was the first female firefighter here at Peterson, that was a big change for firefighting, and at that time female firefighters had to work twice as hard," he said. "She's had to put up with a lot of stuff, and I've always admired her for that."

"I didn't want to be considered a quitter," said Litteral.

She started in the fire department as a GS-05 and moved through the ranks to retire as a GS-12. She credits her success to hanging out with successful people, her word, and being driven.

"If you need anything, she's the first person you look for," said Buyalski. "That's why you always go to her, because she'll give you her word."

Litteral reflected on her lengthy and challenging career, one where she managed to avoid wearing a skirt and where her colleagues hazed many a newcomer by ordering them to enter her office addressing her by Chic. Those are days she will miss.

Although Litteral regrets not having a family, those in the fire department have been like family to her.

Litteral is very much looking forward to life after retirement. She plans to return to her countryside roots. With a newly purchased home with acreage in the woods, she intends to own animals and grow her own food, just as she did as a young girl on the farm back in Manchester.