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 Bloomfield Hills public safety officer Mariah Eckel is the first female  officer to join the department.

Bloomfield Hills public safety officer Mariah Eckel is the first female officer to join the department.

Photo by Deb Jacques

A woman’s place is behind the badge

Bloomfield Hills swears in first female public safety officer

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published January 14, 2019

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — When Bloomfield Hills Public Safety Director Noel Clason set out to hire a new officer for the department, he wasn’t necessarily looking to hire the city’s first female public safety officer earlier this month. He just had a spot to fill, and he wanted the best candidate for the job.

It just so happens the best candidate was Mariah Eckel, an experienced firefighter with a bachelor’s degree in fire science who recently graduated from the Oakland Police Academy with plenty of acclaim from her mentors. She’s training with her colleagues until March, when she’ll fill an attrition vacancy.

Eckel, 25, comes to Bloomfield Hills after time fighting fires in Alba Township and Attica Township, and working as a corrections officer for the Lapeer County Sheriff’s Department. The BHPS gig was the only place she applied, even though she and her husband call the Lapeer area home, because she knew it would be the right fit.

“Most of the reason (I applied) was because it was public safety, police and fire, and that’s always what I’ve wanted to do. I’ve had a passion for it since I was a little kid, so it was perfect,” Eckel said Jan. 10, the morning after she was sworn in as a BHPS officer by City Clerk Amy Burton.

“We’ve had a lot of females apply for our department since the last chief got here and encouraged us to hire from a bigger pool outside of our area,” Clason said of former BHPS Director and current City Manager David Hendrickson. “We saw we had an issue with diversity,  so we cast a bigger net with our hiring than just the old ‘word-of-mouth’ method. But we’ve also had a lot of females test with us and haven’t been able to pass.”

That is to say, pass the department’s physical agility test. It’s more involved than a typical law enforcement exam because candidates need to have the added strength and skills to fight fires. Eckel breezed through.

“Some elements of it were tough, but I practiced with my fire department back home. They put up the test in our department, and that really helped,” she said.

“She’s as capable, if not more capable, than some of the guys I have here. She was the shining star out of everyone we interviewed, for sure,” Clason said.

But when asked what she could bring to the job as a woman that a male officer might not be able to, Eckel was stumped.

“I don’t know. I’ve always just thought of everyone as equals in this industry,” she said.

Since starting training, Eckel said she’s come to really like the Bloomfield Hills community. The reception from residents has been great, and her all-male peers in the department have embraced the change. All the elements clicked, and she said she can see a long career for herself in BHPS.

But that metro Detroit traffic could be something to contend with.

“I’m just getting used to being in the city,” she said with a laugh. “Driving is really bad down here. Traffic is really bad.”

And it’s a good thing the fellas of BHPS were on board with welcoming the department’s first female officer, because Clason doesn’t expect Eckel to be the last.

“We never had a problem with community relations, but we knew we could be more diverse,” he said. “There’s a lot of female police officers around, but not a lot of female public safety officers because there’s more training to it. You have to have the medical end covered (and) the police academy, but she was made to fight fire and she was made to be a policewoman. I think the city will be ecstatic to see her out on the road.”