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Veteran Chopper Pilot And First Woman Hired At OCFA Claims Gender Discrimination For Dismissal

IRVINE (CBSLA) -- A protest was held outside the Orange County Fire Authority's headquarters Thursday in support of a veteran woman chopper pilot, the agency's first, who was terminated during her probationary period.

"She is the best fire pilot I ever flew with," retired firefighter Boschko Ikovic, who last flew with Desiree Horton in a Bell 205 helicopter above the Colby Fire, said. "We depended on her with the water underneath the helicopter, whether it was a Bambi bucket or a belly tank, and when we flew on our missions, I was cutting the fire line and Desiree never missed."

For 30 years, Horton has been a trailblazer in the sky, including a 10-year stretch with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the first woman to ever fly for CAL FIRE, and now she's claiming gender discrimination.

Pilot #2
Through her attorney, Desiree Horton is asking OCFA for her job back after being fired just a year into a her probationary period. (CBSLA)

Horton was once a helicopter pilot at CBSLA and KCAL9

"It's an honor. It's been a long road to get to where I am today. I feel like won the career lottery, basically," she told CBSLA during the Colby Fire in 2014.

Last year, Horton started a new job at OC Fire, the only woman pilot there and with more accumulated flight hours than any male pilots at the fire authority. However, just one year into her probationary period, OC Fire terminated her.

Other protestors told CBSLA that problems like this have been going on in the department for years and that it's essentially a "boy's club."

Ikovic showed up to OCFA HQ with his wife and 11-day old daughter, who was sporting a onesy that read "Let Desiree fly, so one day I can soar."

"I have a newborn daughter and I believe when my daughter grows up, I want her to be who she wants to be. I don't want her to be discriminated against," Ikovic said.

Through her attorney, Horton is asking for her job back.

Asked for comment, OCFA said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

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