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Two Black Women Battalion Chiefs Usher in a New Era of Leadership in Traditional Fire Department ‘Boys Club’

Two Black Women Battalion Chiefs Usher in a New Era of Leadership in Traditional Fire Department ‘Boys Club’

 Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount

While completing training at the D.C. Fire Academy, young cadets Queen Anunay and Kishia Clemencia were probably more focused on receiving passing evaluations and not anticipating making history in the department nearly three decades later. But that’s exactly what they did when they became only the third and fourth women to be named battalion chiefs in the department’s 135-year history.

Anunay, 45 and Clemencia, 44, both grew up in southeast D.C. They did not know one another before their paths crossed in the fire department, but they both pursued the profession in search of a career to provide stability and retirement benefits without needing to necessarily attend college. They both feared the significant debt that the costs of college attendance can oftentimes bring into young people's lives.

After completing their training, both Anunay and Clemencia went on to learn all of the technical aspects of their work and quickly embraced the "family mentality" of the department. That mentality includes making sure that everyone who shows up to the scene of a fire or emergency situation also leaves the scene to return to their  homes and loved ones.

While the idea of their new "family" encouraged the ladies to thrive in their roles, they also realized early on that fire service work was indeed a male-dominated field and not always kind. When they joined the department’s approximately 1,500 members, only 35 of them were women. On her first day of service, 18-year-old Clemencia experienced an unfortunate sexual harassment instance that took her years to build up the courage to report. After continuing to occasionally work with the alleged perpetrator while he continued to verbally abuse and belittle her, she finally lodged a formal complaint and the department handled her complaint appropriately, giving her motivation to "get even" by excelling even more within the department.

Immediately prior to their promotions during late 2018, there were no women in the role of the department’s 41 battalion chiefs. They were ultimately selected for promotion out of a pool of 44 candidates and they were the only two women who met all of the consideration criteria to assume such a critical role within the department. As firefighters, both women experienced serving as team leads of primarily male teams where their knowledge and leadership was consistently demonstrated and respected.

As battalion chiefs, Anunay and Clemencia manage approximately 100 firefighters at 11 different fire stations in D.C. Their leadership will require that they oversee everything from adequate station coverage to routinely updated emergency protocol to ensure the safest work conditions for all fire department employees. In addition, they both serve on a women’s advisory council that will help women to better navigate the department from reporting cases of harassment to navigating parenting issues to advocating for themselves to seek out additional training and/or promotions.

D.C. Fire Chief, Gregory M. Dean, referred to the ladies as “pioneers” and acknowledged what their promotion means to young female firefighters with the Washington Post, remarking “They will create a path for all of our young, female firefighters that shows them, ‘Oh, I can do that. That’s within my reach.’”

Anunay also shared, “I feel proud, but also humbled to be part of a very small group of women,” also referring to her recent promotion as a “paradigm shift” for the department. Clemencia added, “ The younger ones are going to get to see women giving orders and at some point, they’re going to be in charge too.”

Congratulations ladies! We salute your bravery, leadership, and service to the D.C. community.