The city of Los Angeles sworn in a new fire chief on Friday, marking the first time a woman has headed the department. Kristin Crowley will lead the country’s third-largest fire department as the drive for diversity continues.
Crowley joined the department 23 years ago. Hoping to become a doctor, she moved to Los Angeles and did an internship with the department as a paramedic.
“As soon as I walked into the fire station, I thought, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do,'” Crowley told CBS Los Angeles reporter Joy Benedict.
It wasn’t always easy at work. Crowley said she was often the only woman in her battalion. She said she is tested frequently and even had to contend with other firefighters who took her position on the field – forcing her to prove herself repeatedly.
“The eyes are on you, but they are on you just a little longer. Just say ‘uh, can you do the job?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, I can do the job and I’ll show you,'” she said.
Crystal Reneau and Hailey Denny are part of the newest class of probationary firefighters in the city of Los Angeles — the only two women to graduate in their class. Even though they are new, they knew from the start that they were different and had some additional challenges to face.
“Size. I’d say that was probably my biggest hurdle,” Reneau said.
“I think learning the technique of each and every move was a really big thing to overcome,” Denny said.
“This gear isn’t built for someone who’s, you know, 5ft 4 and 100, maybe 130 pounds, soaking wet some days,” Reneau added.
Of the city’s 3,700 sworn firefighters, only about 100 are women. Nationwide, female firefighters still account for only 8% of hiring, adding even more pressure to succeed.
“I want to be able to perform to the point where someone knows if we’re going to the fire crystal that’s behind me,” Reneau said.
Crowley said the way women firefighters have been treated has improved over the past two decades, but there is still room for growth.
There have been allegations of sexism and harassment in the LAFD, something Crowley says needs to change.
“It really is a perfect position to start and prioritize this work environment, especially around diversity, equity and inclusion,” Crowley said.
Crowley says the key to addressing this issue is more diversity in the department, which is why they offer girls’ camps and outreach.
“It will make us a stronger team so that we can ultimately serve the community better,” Crowley said.
Reneau and Denny may still be probationary firefighters, but they think it’s exciting to see a change at the helm.
“There are so many women out there who might not even know that’s a possibility,” Denny said.
“It’s not just about being a woman, it’s about everyone being capable,” Reneau said.