When she was growing up in Forest Park, Angela Tricoci was as likely to play with her toy fire extinguisher as she was to play with dolls. The 23-year-old native is now fighting fires for real, as she became Rosemont’s first female public safety officer.

For Tricoci, it’s the fulfillment of a lifelong goal to follow the example of her firefighting father, Lt. Mario Tricoci, who recently marked 30 years on the job with the village department.

“I don’t cry easily,” Mario Tricoci said. “But I had tears in my eyes at her induction ceremony.” He’s not just proud of her groundbreaking achievement but the fact she paid her own way. “She had to open the confirmation envelopes,” he said with a laugh. “She also worked at Ed’s Way for a year or two.”

The money Tricoci earned working at the local grocery financed her associate’s degree in criminal justice from Triton College. She also received EMT training from Central DuPage Hospital and studied fire science at the Elgin Fire Academy. Her fire training was realistic, especially when she was learning search and rescue and ventilation.

“I brought a hose into a live burn,” Angela Tricoci said. “That was the fun part.” After “rescuing” dummies and dragging them out, she ascended to the roof with cutting tools. “It doesn’t matter how much you study. Hands-on is the only way to learn.”

When the Rosemont position opened up, Mario pushed her to take the test. But she was reluctant, she said, because a woman had never passed the physical. She also needed a sponsor. Angela had worked for the Winfield Fire Department and the chief, impressed by her determination, agreed to sponsor her.

The test included scaling an 85-foot ladder, running 1.5 miles and bench-pressing a required weight, which in Angela’s case was100 pounds. She finished third out of 50 applicants, earning a position on the force. Now, all she needed was her police training.

“I had never shot a gun before,” Angela Tricoci said.

She spent almost four months at the police academy. She not only learned to fire a weapon, she was on the receiving end of pepper spray and a Taser. Finally, after completing all of her fire and police training, she was sworn in on Dec. 12.

She has found Rosemont to be a unique community. Although the population is only 4,200, there can be as many as 50,000 people in town at a given time. Crammed into two-square miles are hotels, a stadium and a convention center. For this reason, Rosemont has 300 auxiliary public safety officers on-call for crowd control.

When Angela Tricoci is on duty at the firehouse, she can be called out on police business.

“I cross-train so I can keep up my skills for both jobs,” she said. “I like police work but I like the fire department side better.”

Being a pioneer at the neighboring department doesn’t faze Angela. She’s used to being around guys, and said everyone’s been nice. And what does her proud father think?

“I didn’t see it coming that Angela would become a fireman,” Mario Tricoci said. “I wanted her to be on the LPGA tour, so that I could be her caddy.”

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.