Capt. Michele Fitzsimmons has made history as the second woman and the first lesbian to become a battalion chief in the New York City Fire Department.
Fitzsimmons, a 19-year veteran of the department, was promoted Thursday in a ceremony at the city’s Fire Academy, the New York Daily News reports. The event followed social distancing rules, so Fitzsimmons wore a surgical mask, and no friends or family members were admitted. Her wife, DiAnna, stayed in their car.
The FDNY’s first female battalion chief was Rochelle “Rocky” Jones, who was promoted to the post in 2003 and retired in 2011. Jones was married to a male firefighter, Jon Thomas.
As a battalion chief, Fitzsimmons will oversee several FDNY ladder and engine companies. The granddaughter and great-granddaughter of New York firefighters, she joined the department in 2001, having been the only woman in her graduating class at the academy. A few years later, her sister became a city firefighter as well.
“I was able to prove that I was capable of doing the job, which went a long way when it came to being accepted,” Fitzsimmons said of her career, according to the 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."
“It used to be a big thing,” she added. “I would be stopped on the street by people who said they had never seen a lady firefighter before.”
Before her promotion, Fitzsimmons was commander of the Ladder 12 company in the Chelsea neighborhood. She is a past president of FireFLAG, the FDNY’s LGBTQ+ organization, and worked at the HIV service organization GMHC for eight years, the last three as coordinator of its Lesbian AIDS Project, before joining the fire department.
She is a cofounder of Phoenix Firecamp, which introduces teenage girls to careers in firefighting. She has been an instructor at FDNY’s Probationary Firefighter School and is a graduate of the FDNY Officers Management Institute, which is run by Columbia Business School Executive Education.
Fitzsimmons said Jones “laid out some great tracks for me to follow and for me to have this opportunity.” Her own promotion, she added, “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.”
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro praised Fitzsimmons, issuing the following statement: “Michele is an accomplished person, an outstanding fire officer, and a role model for so many women and men in the department.”