PA Firefighter Makes History As City Fire Bureau’s First Black Woman Officer


December 18, 2020

She’s climbing the station ladder to the top!

A Pennsylvania firefighter just made history as the city fire bureau’s first Black woman officer, Democrat & Chronicle reports.

Seenah Mischel has wanted to become a firefighter since she was a little girl, becoming enamored with the career after seeing a Black woman firefighter in her hometown of Buffalo. “I swear, never before in time had I thought I could do something like that. Seeing someone doing it was an eye-opener. From that point, I wanted to do it,” Mischel said.


After college, Mischeul served in the U.S. Army, eventually moving to Erie, Pennsylvania, where a random radio ad recruiting firefighter candidates brought her childhood dream back full circle. After completing her testing, Mischel made history in 2010 as Erie’s first Black woman firefighter. Now, lightning has struck twice, returning from an overseas deployment with the U.S. Air Force Reserves to receive a new promotion as a lieutenant, becoming the city fire bureau’s first Black woman officer. 

While the 42-year-old admits she entered the sector with no experience, she credits her crew members with helping train and educate her on the job. She’s incredibly grateful and proud to have had such support from her fellow firefighters and only wishes she would have pursued the career sooner. 

“It’s very exciting. I swear it feels like the best job in the world. I feel like I wasted time not going for it sooner. I can kick myself now, I guess, for wasting time. Because once I got into it, I was so happy and fulfilled I can’t imagine myself doing anything else,” said Mischel.


She is just one of four woman firefighters in the Erie Bureau of Fire’s 134 member crew and the only Black member. Mischel knows that her mere existence makes her a role model, and she hopes to inspire other women and minorities in the town to make firefighting a career. 

“Sometimes I do see those looks I gave [the Black woman firefighter in my hometown] when I was a kid. I see it in the eyes of kids when they stop and look at me, never realizing that firefighters on the job are someone who looks like them,” Mischel said. 

Now stationed out of Engine Co.8, Mischel hopes to continue growing and learning and developing trust in her new position as lieutenant. She also has the support of Joe Walko, Erie’s fire chief and a former crew member of Mischels. Walko said he plans to work with her to help recruit more minorities and fulfill the Mayor’s mission of increasing diversity in public safety forces. 


“I definitely want to live up to the standards and hopefully will be able to achieve that. I didn’t pursue this job as a challenge or something I had to fight for. I never felt it was anything I had to prove. I had the mindset of doing it because I know I can, and I feel up for it. I think it’s just attitude. If there are young women who feel this is something they may want to do, I say go for it…You don’t know what you are going to get. We literally save lives, and other times we’re there for support. It’s rewarding,” said Mischel.

Congratulations, Lieutenant Mischel!

Photo Courtesy of Christopher Millette/Erie Times-News


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