NEW ORLEANS -

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

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

He said 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 -- described her as very determined. He said she applied through Project Independence -- a state program to help welfare recipients get diplomas, child care, and job training.

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