VALDOSTA -- A first in the history of the Valdosta Fire Department was made Monday when a female firefighter was promoted to sergeant.

"This is the first female promoted to any rank in the Valdosta Fire Department overall," said Fire Chief J.D. Rice. "We knew it was a matter of time, because we've got some sharp females. They are dedicated, hard working and they love what they do."

Stephanie Burton was one of three firefighters promoted at a ceremony at Valdosta Fire Station No. 1. Joining Burton were Jason Rowan and Ashley Tye.

Rice was in charge of the promotion ceremony and gave the honor of pinning the sergeant badges to members of the firefighters' family: Tamika Payne, Burton's sister; Buie Rowan, Rowan's father; and Nikki Tye, wife of Tye.

Rice said promotions are held once a year after extensive testing. In the past, it wasn't always guaranteed there would be any promotions to sergeant. However, in the past five years, there have been promotions each year due to the growth of the fire department, he said.

This year's selection for sergeant was very limited. There were 18 applicants overall and only three positions available, Rice said.

The testing for sergeant is broken down into several areas over the course of the year. First, there is a written exam followed by a street exam. The street exam shows that the potential sergeant knows the location of every street in the city. There is also a field examination where the candidates demonstrate their knowledge of the fire truck. The final test is an oral interview.

"All the scores are tallied, including their education and on-the-job training," Rice said.

Besides firefighting, Burton also puts in 30 hours a week as a Remerton police officer.

"I can't describe how I feel," Burton said. "I feel pretty good and feel like I have accomplished something."

Burton said last week, Rice notified her of her upcoming promotion and shook her hand. How did she take the news? After hearing about her selection, she walked outside to the back of the fire station and screamed with joy.

To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.

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