Kelly Hanink had no intention of becoming a firefighter when she attended a North Star Women’s Firefighter Association event in 2007.
However, the long-time engineer changed her mind by the time she returned home.
“I came home from the expo and starting filling out the paperwork, literally,” she recalled.
Hanink, an Eden Prairie resident since 1999, is the second woman in the Eden Prairie Fire Department’s history to be named an assistant chief, after Becki White. She began the part-time role of assistant chief of health and safety in February.
“We have such a positive environment here in our department it’s not something I think a lot about,” she said. “Being a mechanical engineer in the defense industry, I’m very used to being in the minority as a female. I’ve never had any issues with being a female in this department.”
ENGINEER TO FIREFIGHTER
Hanink graduated from high school in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1988. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and moved to Minnesota in 1993 to attend graduate school. She has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota.
She was employed with Orbital ATK for 21 years, working on weapon systems projects. She said she recently decided to transition out of that field and hopes to find a full-time public safety job.
Hanink said she decided to join the fire department in 2007 when she learned that the position would fit with her work schedule at the time and she could meet the physical requirements. As a single person, she also didn’t feel as connected to the community and believed this would be a good way to get involved.
“You are gaining a second family and another way to meet people,” she said.
According to the city of Eden Prairie, Hanink has played an active role in a number of community events including the Citywide Open House and the Eden Prairie Polar Plunge that benefits Special Olympics Minnesota. Prior to being promoted to assistant chief, Hanink also served as a lieutenant.
Hanink received the City Manager’s Quality Award in the fall of 2013, “for her excellence in teamwork and public stewardship,” a news release said. She’s also one of only 22 individuals in the United States serving on the Underwriters Labs Firefighter Safety Research Institute’s advisory board of fire service experts, the city said.
Hanink said she believes her analytic experience as an engineer helped her to get a position with the board. The board is doing a research study to determine what impacts the different ways of attacking a fire.
“There are different ways to do it, different nozzles or positions where we do it from and how we do it is different from department to department,” she said. “We’re looking for data on what might be best for both us and potential victims.”
As assistant chief of health and safety, Hanink is responsible for overseeing health and wellness programs and initiatives for the firefighters and dealing with any firefighter injuries. One of her goals is to make improvements for firefighters relative to cancer exposure and provide other resources that fit with their lifestyles as part-time members.
“This is an opportunity to get even more involved in helping set the direction of the department and using the skills that I have from my 25 years of engineering and leadership to impact the department,” she said. “This is a fantastic organization and I want to be part of helping it continue to be fantastic.”
Hanink said she’s become more engaged in the city because of being with the fire department.
When asked about her most memorable moment as a firefighter, she described an interaction she had with a little girl about three years ago.
She happened to be at a station working out before her shift and wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus, when one of the police chaplains dropped by with some family friends and their granddaughter. The girl, who was about 5 years old, was interested in police officers and wearing a police uniform. They had just completed a tour of the police station before visiting the fire station. Hanink spent some time talking with the girl about being a firefighter and they left.
Hanink later learned from the chaplain that the little girl took off the uniform and declared she wanted to be a firefighter instead after getting home from the tours. The girl later sent her a picture.
“I really enjoy interacting with the public and the community when the opportunity affords itself to explain what we do or answer questions,” Hanink said.