STL firefighter leaving department to work with others who have lost military loved ones

Battalion Chief Gail Simmons. Credit: KMOV

One of the most successful women in the St. Louis Fire Department is leaving the force after nearly 30 years. The new job is outside her field, but not outside her personal experience.

Battalion Chief Gail Simmons will join the national non-profit group Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). The group helps anyone who has lost a loved one in the military.

Chief Simmons was one of five female firefighters who were the first women to work as firefighters in 1987. Through the years, Chief Simmons has earned herself recognition for her work. She was promoted both in 1996 and 2007, first as a captain and then as battalion chief.

"There's been some tough times being a woman in man's field," Chief Simmons said. "But, for the most part, (it's) been a pleasure to serve the city."

Now, the time is approaching for her to leave the department. Her last day is Nov. 9. Chief Simmons will work in TAPS, and help those who have gone through the same pain she has: The loss of a child in the military.

Chief Simmons' son, Private First Class Ryan Simmons, was an army veteran who returned home from Iraq six years ago. While serving, Private Simmons was hit with an IED in April 2010.

"It changed him," Simmons said.

Private Simmons had noticeable signs of PTSD, Simmons said.

Two years after his return from Iraq, and four days after his 22nd birthday, Private Simmons died by suicide.

TAPS helps those who have lost through peer-to-peer connections; those who understand the pain that comes with that loss.

"Really early on, (TAPS) saved my life," Chief Simmons said.

Copyright 2016 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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