Allison Armstrong is a team player and problem solver. A good firefighter needs to be. And since 2000, her devotion to being one of the team for the Toledo Fire and Rescue Department has rewarded her with promotions to Lieutenant in 2010, Captain in 2011 and Battalion Chief in 2019. According to Sterling Rahe, Public Information Officer for Toledo Fire and Rescue, it was no surprise to anyone to see that her next step was to be appointed Chief in January of 2022. “She is well respected as a firefighter first. She has proved she belongs here to her peers”, states Rahe.
And Chief Armstrong feels welcomed. Welcomed by her fellow firefighters, welcomed by the community and welcomed by the people who have reached out with congratulations over being the first female fire chief for Toledo. “I am surprised at how excited people are for me. I don’t necessarily seek out attention so it’s been a little odd,” says Chief Armstrong.
A Passion for Public Service
From as far back as she can remember the Chief wanted to be a firefighter. Her father was a policeman and her mother worked in the ER. She remembers being intrigued when her older brother joined a fire explorers program. As she grew, she wanted to stay in Toledo and work in public service. Her education: Paramedic/EMS Certification, Associates and Bachelor’s degrees in Nursing, a Master’s in Health Informatics and certifications in Fire Safety Inspection and Fire Instructor point to the fact that the Chief is a lifelong learner and passionate about helping others.
And these are traits she looks for when choosing new recruits. Due to the many people in the department reaching retirement age, finding those young people who want to commit themselves to public service and an unusual work schedule has been an urgent goal for the first few months in her new position. Chief Armstrong believes that the candidates chosen to begin two upcoming Fire Academies will, by the end of the year, counteract the upcoming retirements and strengthen the line.
On the line
Time spent on the line was invaluable to Chief Armstrong’s career. She states, “Nobody works by themselves. To be a firefighter it takes ingenuity and thinking outside the box. On the line, we are fixers and then we are done and onto the next thing.” Now that she is the Chief she is eager to address both short term and long term goals. One of her first tasks is leading the department through a software upgrade that will streamline scheduling and allow them to get away from handwritten punchcards. Beyond that, Chief Armstrong is eager to implement a progressive vision for Toledo Fire and Rescue. “I could be here for 14 years before I reach retirement age. I have the time to set and achieve those long term goals.”
Paving the way
Chief Armstrong is grateful for the women firefighters who came before her. Because of them she believes she is able to just show up as a human and gender doesn’t matter as much as it once did. Her husband’s recent retirement from TFD made it possible on the homefront for her to even consider applying for chief. “We worked opposite schedules for 8 years so that we could raise our son. A lot of soul searching went into my decision to apply. His retirement gave me reassurance that we could do this.” She is also grateful for the appointment by Mayor Kapszukiewicz. “I told him I am happy with being a Battalion Chief, but, if given the chance, I am also willing and capable to run this department.”
A Natural Born Leader
After 3 months on the job Chief Armstrong seems calm and collected. Despite the fact that a short walk from her office to a conference room for this interview included several people asking for a few minutes of her time, she states she does not feel overwhelmed or stressed. She leads with fairness, consistency, openness and honesty. It is hard to imagine that Chief Armstrong states that she didn’t see leadership potential in herself when she was young. A lot can change with two decades of hard work, education and training. Today, as she settles into her new role, Allison Armstrong is the confident and well respected chief she was always destined to be.
At the end of a long day I like to….
simply spend time with family
What traits do you most admire?
I like people who are honest and open.
I like realistic people. Be real to me whether I want to hear the info or not.
What book are you currently reading?
Angels of the Pacific by Elise Hooper. I like historical fiction. This is a novel about WWII nurses.
What is you favorite TV show?
I’ve always liked Mash because it finds a way to cope with a very serious thing with humor and fun.
People would be surprised to know….
that I play ice hockey.
Advice for young girls hearing about your promotion.
Don’t let others stop you from doing what you want to do. Chase your dreams.