Firefighter Annette Holt, who lost her teenage son in one of the most tragic incidents of gun violence in Chicago history, has been named first deputy commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department — the first woman to hold that position.

Holt is the mother of Blair Holt, the 16-year-old Julian High School honor student who was killed on a CTA bus in 2007, trying to shield a friend after a gang member opened fire at a rival gang member on a crowded bus after school.

Originally sentenced to 100 years in the killing, gang member Michael Pace was re-sentenced in January to 75 years. Holt and Blair’s father, retired Chicago Police Cmdr. Ronald Holt, have dedicated themselves to fighting gun violence ever since.

Annette Holt (C) holds a picture of her son Blair during a gathering of gun violence victims and gun control advocates at Cornell Square Park on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting December 14, 2013. File Photo. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Annette Holt (C) holds a picture of her son Blair during a gathering of gun violence victims and gun control advocates at Cornell Square Park on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting December 14, 2013. File Photo. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“First Deputy Annette Nance-Holt is one of the most efficient officers I have had the pleasure of working with,” Fire Department Commissioner Richard C. Ford told the Sun-Times Thursday. “She is an outstanding tactician and administrator. Her abilities and leadership are respected by both officers and the rank and file.”

The appointment to the department’s No. 2 position — no woman has held that or the top position of commissioner in the department’s 160-year history — was quietly made by Ford, himself appointed late last month by outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel to replace retired Commissioner Jose Santiago.

 

Annette Holt

Ford and Holt, both African-American, now lead — though perhaps temporarily until the mayoral election — a department historically challenged by race and sex discrimination complaints, with lawsuits over discriminatory hiring practices having  cost the city nearly $100 million over the past decade.

Holt, a 28-year veteran of the department, was out of town and unavailable for comment Thursday, a Fire Department spokesman said.

She joined the department in 1990 — four years after the very first female firefighters were hired in November 1986, following charges of discrimination. She moved up through the ranks, promoted to lieutenant of the Fire Prevention Bureau in 1993, and then to lieutenant Emergency Medical Technician in Fire Suppression & Rescue, in 1995, a position she held until 2001.

From 2001 to 2014, she moved from the rank of lieutenant EMT in the Training Division to captain EMT in Fire Suppression & Rescue, during that time also serving as a federal monitor in the consent decree of the Lewis class-action suit that led to the hiring of of 111 candidate firefighters in 2012.

In 2014, she was promoted to battalion chief EMT in Headquarters Relief, then in 2016 promoted to deputy district chief at 4th District Headquarters, a position she’d held until her promotion Thursday to the $197,736 first deputy commissioner position. In her new role, she will be responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations of the department.

Ford, a 35-year veteran, had since February 2016 served in the No. 2 position, before appointed to fill the $202,728-a-year position of Commissioner.