For the first time in the history of the New York City Fire Department, a lesbian woman has been promoted to the rank of battalion chief.
Michele Fitzsimmons, formerly a captain with the FDNY, is also the second woman ever to hold the rank. As a battalion chief, Fitzsimmons will now be in charge of several FDNY ladder and engine companies. She has been with the FDNY for 19 years, following in her grandfather and great-grandfather’s footsteps. Back in 2001, she was the only woman in her graduating class at the academy.
“I was able to prove that I was capable of doing the job, which went a long way when it came to being accepted,” she told New York Daily News. “There was always a reaction when someone had to work with a woman, but now there are a lot more women, so that doesn’t happen anymore.”
She added that being a female firefighter used to be “a big thing,” so much so that she was stopped on the street by people who’d never seen one before.
There hasn’t been a female battalion chief in nine years, Fitzsimmons added. The first was Rochelle “Rocky” Jones, who was promoted to battalion chief in 2003. Jones “laid out some great tracks for me to follow and for me to have this opportunity,” Fitzsimmons explained.
Fitzsimmons was formally promoted on Thursday at a ceremony at the Fire Academy. The event followed social distancing rules, so her wife had to stay in the car.
Now that being a lady firefighter isn’t so unheard of, Fitzsimmons works hard to encourage other young women to pursue firefighting. She co-founded Phoenix Firecamp, a firefighting camp for teenage girls, and used to work as an instructor at FDNY’s Probationary Firefighter School. She also has experience in LGBTQ+ advocacy, having worked at the HIV service organization GMHC for eight years.
She says her promotion to battalion chief “shows that if you put your mind to something and work really hard and put the time in, you can achieve anything. And the department has supported me and enabled me to achieve that.”