The New Orleans Fire Department says its first woman firefighter — a mother of two who got off of welfare and into a 1992 recruit class — has died of complications from cancer.

Chief Terry Hardy says 57-year-old Kathy Wilkerson died Saturday in Eau Claire, Wis.

He says one of Wilkerson’s two daughters told him Sunday that funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Wilkerson retired in 1997. Hardy wasn’t sure of the reason.

Hardy — who was in the same recruit class — describes her as very determined. He says she applied through Project Independence — a state program to help welfare recipients get diplomas, child care and job training.

He says the 650-person department currently includes seven women. He says two women are captains, two are operators and three are firefighters.