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Mountain Vista Fire gets new chief, fresh start

Posted at 10:21 PM, Jan 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-05 00:21:32-05

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - A new chief is in charge at Mountain Vista Fire District as of Monday, and she wants to hit the reset button for a fire district that has dealt with turmoil in recent months.

Cheryl Horvath, most recently a division chief with Northwest Fire and in the fire service for 23 years total, began her tenure as chief Monday morning at 8 a.m.

"When I woke up this morning, I woke up and said 'Today I get to be a fire chief' and it was a pretty good feeling," she said.

There are two parts to this story, the first is a new beginning for Mountain Vista Fire.

The relatively new fire district has been without a permanent chief since August when firefighters gave a vote of "no-confidence" for their former chief, citing safety concerns.

Since then, firefighters say it has felt like a roller coaster.

"It's been challenging, we've had our peaks and valleys," said Capt. Ben Jones.

Monday, on Horvath's first day as chief, there was a sense of relief.

"It's a lot of weight lifted from our shoulders right now," Felipe Torres, Vice President of the Northwest Firefighters Local 3572. 

"We're excited to have someone that could lead us now, finally," said firefighter Mike Selsor.

Now in charge, Horvath says her goal is to come in, let the dust settle, and build trust with her staff. Then she will work on improving the station.

"Moving forward we're saying this is Mountain Vista 2.0. We're just hitting the reset button and we are seeing what we can do to make ourselves better and we are going to go down that road together," she said.

As for part two of the story, Horvath is in very rare company as a female fire chief.

"It's a huge achievement, not only for myself but for women in the service in general," says Horvath.

To her knowledge, she is one of two women serving as a fire chief in the state of Arizona. She says women represent less than four percent of professionals in the fire service.

Horvath compared working in the firehouse to being in a men's locker room, but that makes no difference to her or the firefighters. They say when they are called to duty, her skills are what matter.

"She knows what she is doing. She is good at what she does. Her being a female should not have anything to do with it," said Torres.

"I'm not a big burly firefighter, but I have a lot of really good strengths that make me a good firefighter. It is about accepting that the fire service can look and act and be in very different shapes and sizes and forms and still be a very good fire department," said Horvath.

She added that recently firefighters have become more respectful towards women in the fire service. Going forward she hopes to be a role model for girls and young women interested in the profession.