The City of Los Angeles swore in a new fire chief Friday, marking the first time a woman hath led the department. Kristin Crowley will lead the nation’s third-largest firefighting force as a push for diversity continues.
Crowley joined the department 23 years ago. She moved to Los Angeles in hopes of being a doctor and did an internship with the department as a paramedic.
“As soon as I went into the fire station, I thought this is what I’m supposed to do,” Crowley told CBS Los Angeles reporter Joy Benedict.
Once on the job, things weren’t always easy. Crowley said she was often the only woman in her battalion. She said she was frequently being tested and even had to deal with other firefighters taking her position in the field — forcing her to prove herself repeatedly.
“The eyes are on you but they are on you just a little bit longer. Just say ‘Eh, can you do the job?’ It’s like ‘Yes, 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. Although they are new, they’ve known from the beginning they are different and would have to face some additional challenges.
“Size. I would say that was probably my biggest hurdle,” Reneau said.
“I think learning just technique of every different movement was a really big thing to try to overcome,” Denny said.
“This equipment isn’t built for someone that’s, you know, 5’4 and 100 maybe 130 pounds soaking wet some days,” Reneau added.
Out of the city’s 3,700 sworn firefighters, only about 100 are women. Nationwide, female firefighters still only make up 8% of career hires, making the pressure to succeed even harder.
“I want to be able to perform to the point where someone knows if we are going to the fire Crystal has my back,'” Reneau said.
Crowley said that while the way women firefighters were treated has improved in the last two decades, there’s still room for growth.
In the LAFD, there have been allegations of sexism and harassment, something Crowley said must change.
“It’s really a perfect position to start and to prioritize that work environment, especially from the diversity, equity and inclusion side,” said Crowley.
Crowley says the key to fixing that is having more diversity on the department, which is why they offer girls’ camps and outreach.
“It’s going to make us a stronger team so we can ultimately serve the community in a better capacity,” Crowley said.
Reneau and Denny may still be probationary firefighters, but they believe seeing a change at the top is exciting.
“There’s so many women out there that might not even know that’s a possibility,” Denny said.
“It’s not just about being a woman, it’s about anyone being capable,” Reneau said.