Jayme McConnellogue, as battalion chief, is responsible for the medical division and 911 responses for the Colorado Springs Fire Department. She began her career there, however, more than 20 years ago.
“I wish I could say I joined because my dad was a firefighter or my grandpa was and it was this big tradition and it’s everything I’ve always wanted to do, but there would be no truth to that whatsoever,” she said, laughing. “I was a single mom to three young boys and I was searching for a career. A good friend of mine was a police officer and told me that I should test, and in all honesty I didn’t even know what that meant.”
McConnellogue decided the fire department would provide stability for her and her family.
“Going through the entire process and entering into training and serving in that role, I fell in love with serving our community and everything that had to do with it,” she said.
McConnellogue climbed through the ranks and was promoted to paramedic, lieutenant and battalion chief. But she struggled proving her worthiness in a male-dominated field.
“I kind of wrapped my energy around the wrong things,” she said. “I needed to prove myself physically and emotionally. It took me many years to reflect back and realize that was an expectation I put solely on myself, and it wasn’t the expectation anyone else had of me.”
Two years ago, McConnellogue traded in her role on the front lines of firefighting for one in administration.
“I put out different types of fires now,” she said.
Erin Hannan, McConnellogue’s sister-in-law and her nominator, said McConnellogue is an inspiration throughout the fire department for men and women alike.
“She serves the Colorado Springs first-responder community with the utmost integrity, professionalism and compassion,” Hannan said.
McConnellogue has also served as the vice president of Summer Heat Fire Camp, which puts young women through a weeklong academy where they learn firefighting and leadership skills.
“It’s been hit or miss over the last three to five years due to the fact it’s run by the women in our department and our numbers are dwindling,” she said. “It’s just harder to put it on now.”
In 2004, McConnellogue established the Peer Support program, a team of 40 people that help firefighters deal with the emotional impact of the job.
“Keeping that overall wellness for our folks has been such an amazing opportunity,” she said, adding mental health is an open topic of conversation at work. “When I came on 20 years ago, it was a culture of, ‘Just buck up, we don’t talk about that.’ I had a really hard time understanding that,” she said.
McConnellogue decided to start the program after encouraging words from a captain and a mentor affected her greatly.
“He said, ‘These emotions you’re feeling right now, these tears that you’re shedding, don’t ever lose that. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that’s not OK because that’s compassion, and that’s such an important part of our jobs.’”
McConnellogue said she was shocked when she heard about the Woman of Influence recognition.
“I had to digest it,” she said. “I don’t think of myself as influential because I view myself as a hard worker and someone who is passionate about what I do, and I just hadn’t thought about being honored with something like this that’s external and reflective of the city.”
Even so, Hannan said she is proud to call McConnellogue her sister-in-law.
“She leads by example, having a positive impact on people everywhere she goes, and inspiring those around her to reach for excellence and achieve their very best,” she said. “Her work on behalf of the city to help improve public safety for every citizen, including our most vulnerable, is remarkable and invaluable, and her best is yet to come.”
Although McConnellogue faces challenges in her current role, she said she enjoys every aspect of her job.
“After 20 years of doing this, I marvel at the fact that we are all paid to do nothing more than to try to make people’s bad days better.”
— Halle Thornton