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HUNTINGTON - Hero, role model, lifesaver and friend were just some of the words used to describe Jan Rader by those who attended her swearing-in ceremony as she became Huntington's new fire chief Wednesday at City Hall.

While making it to this rank is a feat any person would be proud to achieve, the moment is made even sweeter by the fact that Rader is the first female professional firefighter to achieve the rank of fire chief in West Virginia.

"When you look at Jan, there is no limit. This was the last limit that was left for us, and she's broken through that ceiling," said Capt. Cindy Murphy of the Clarksburg Fire Department.

Having served 24 years in a profession dominated by men, Murphy said she and Rader have leaned on each other throughout the years, in good times and in bad.

"Being some of the few female career firefighters ... nobody in our individual departments could say that they've walked in our bunker boots," she said.

With her new title, Murphy said Rader is a role model who proves to young girls that there is no position out of their reach.

"We came so close last year to having a female president, so now there is a level of excitement in young girls saying, 'I could be this. I could be the chief. I could be the president,' because before, there was no role model. There was no one that they could point to and say that they've done it," Murphy said.

Rader said she feels humbled by the confidence the mayor and the community have in her.

"I feel like I have prepared my whole career for this in certain ways," she said. "The experiences I have had have prepared me for this. It's not something that I ever aspired to be or to do, but I certainly am willing to do it to the best of my abilities."

After being sworn in by Huntington Municipal Court Judge Cheryl Henderson and having her new badge pinned on her uniform by Cabell County Family Court Judge Patricia A. Keller, Rader in a speech thanked the city, her family and other women who also serve as role models to young women.

"I would like to thank all the strong women that serve day in and day out as role models," she said. "Today we stand together, proving that anything is possible. The road may be rough with many barricades, yet we are all capable of finding the strength within to reach our goals."

She ended by giving a special thanks to one gentleman in the audience, Mickey Watson, who she said changed her life in more ways than he will ever know.

However, Watson would argue that Rader is the one who made the biggest impact on his life.

More than a year sober, Watson, 35, said without Rader he wouldn't be alive.

"She saved my life. ... She didn't give up on me when I overdosed. I should be dead, for as long as I was out. I've seen the video, and she wasn't stopping till I was alive," he said. "She was at (my ceremony marking one year of sobriety) - that was a big event for me, and I wasn't going to miss hers. ... If everybody would put a quarter of what she has in her heart into their jobs, it would turn this community around. ... She is the perfect example of what a leader should be."

While Rader is the first professional female fire chief in West Virginia, Courtney Rosemond, public information specialist for the West Virginia State Fire Marshal, said there are several volunteer female fire chiefs scattered throughout the state.

"We definitely have a female presence in the fire service, but I think with Jan being in Huntington it really is a great, positive thing," she said.

Rader is a 22-year veteran of the Fire Department and stepped into her role as interim fire chief shortly after Carl Eastham resigned from the position in December.

Rader's salary as fire chief will be $76,615.

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