The Women Behind The LAFD Badge

Thursday, March 08, 2012 |

Many people are surprised to learn that the first women to join the Los Angeles Fire Department did so prior to World War I.

On June 16, 1912, the LAFD's first all-female volunteer Fire Company, led by Captain Marie Stack responded to a grass fire near the intersection of Third and Flower Streets in what is now Downtown Los Angeles.

These valiant ladies had their first fire well under control prior to the arrival of the LAFD's next-due resource, the recently motorized contingent of LAFD Engine Company 3.

Then LAFD Chief Engineer Archibald Eley oversaw the formation of several other all-female firefighting crews in 1912, including the storied Manhattan Place Volunteer Fire Brigade led by Captain J.A. Caldwell.

Not to be limited to the lesser ranks or even Captain, the Wilmington Park Fire Ladies protecting the southern limits of our City in 1912, were led by Chief Louise Leonardo.

Of course, our City and its people were soon embroiled in the first World War, and as our burgeoning City grew in the decades following the war, the need for part-time men and women to protect parts of our metropolis from fire was eclipsed. Still the work of Marie Stack and her pioneering colleagues has inspired us for more than nine decades.

So what of gender diversity in today's LAFD?

The Los Angeles Fire Department began providing career opportunities for women as Paramedics in 1978 (in what was then a separate career track) and for women as Firefighters in 1983.

The two career-paths were combined in the 1990's and there are now nearly 100 women members of the LAFD holding uniformed positions ranging from Firefighter and Firefighter/Paramedic to Apparatus Operator, Engineer, Investigator, Inspector, Captain, Battalion Chief and Deputy Chief.

Still more women hold key positions in LAFD Bureaus that oversee our Administration, Operations, Administrative Services, Emergency Services, Fire Prevention & Public Safety, Training & Risk Management and Support Services.

...and what of the LAFD's future?

You can help us share word of our need to hire, retain and empower a truly capable and dynamic workforce. Detailed information about the demands and rewards of an LAFD career - and how any motivated man or woman can start the process, are available year-round by calling 213-473-9060 or visiting the LAFD Recruitment website at:

If you'd like to know more about women working in our vocation:

Submitted by Brian Humphrey, Spokesman
Los Angeles Fire Department


emilypresents said...

Great post! I always enjoy reading tidbits about LAFD history. And this year, a historic first: two female chief officers - a battalion chief & an assistant chief.

Keep up the good work Brian!

Anonymous said...

As always your postings are informative and interesting. "The Firefighter of the Year" for 2009 was awarded the same day as this posting on women in the LAFD. I can't help but wonder if the recipient had been a woman or in another "politically correct" category, if you would have then covered the "Firefighter of the Year" for 2009, Terry Cooper?

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...


Thanks for the note.

Anonymous 2:20,

I deeply appreciate your taking the time to share what is on your mind in a thoughtful manner.

Dissenting viewpoints that are specific to the post and remain polite are always welcome. The content and tone of your offering is a textbook example of how to do so.

The truth be told, writing about groups with historically small representation all but defines political correctness. That's not to say that doing so isn't or can't be entirely proper and wholesome - but we must admit that in many sectors there is an at-times-unhealthy effort at social engineering that actually harms the cause, group or mission one purports to further.

That much offered, I'm pleased to say that I'm not under any pressure to be politically correct... beyond being factually accurate by using the title Firefighter rather than Fireman for the civil service titles of modern day employees.

When you see "the men and women of the LAFD" as an alternate to the repeated, repeated, repeated use of "members" in a paragraph when welcoming the community to a public event or safety campaign [great emphasis added], I do so because "members" can send a subconscious message of "us vs. them" that couldn't be further from the truth.

But back to your rightful question, which deserves an honest and forthright reply:

I am pleased to say that there is no pressure on any of the contributors to this blog to be politically correct. We are self-motivated to be purposeful, enlightening, sensitive, encouraging, encompassing and factual - and sometimes fun, but not in the pocket of any group, cause or purpose.

One of the biggest challenges we face is being kept out of the loop, often accidently or due to a lack of due diligence by others, but at times purposely - and it hurts both us and our purpose. We make dozens of phone calls a week that are never returned, and as a one-man-band with a staggering workload, there comes a time that I have to tap out and move on.

Of all the times I have asked for information about Firefighter of the Year, I only got the information I needed to write an invitation article in 2005.

I lose sleep at the thought of articles I was unable to write, like a well-deserved tribute to (now retired) Firefighter John Keyes, our Department's beloved bagpiper, who continues to give beyond belief in helping our agency and its members in good times and bad.

But I digress.

Since you've read this far, a revelation that might surprise you...

'Women Behind The LAFD Badge' is an ANTI-political correctness piece I first wrote 5 years ago to debunk the historically ignorant notion that women have only served as LAFD Firefighters 1983.

I published it again this March - Women's History Month, to make certain that true history - including brave women like Marie Stack, Louise Leonardo and their colleagues (who take nothing away from the distinguished service of women in today's LAFD), are given their rightful place - above and beyond a convenient notion.

Again, thanks for the note. Please give me a call at the PSO Desk on any 'B' Shift, and if you have some info about Terry Cooper fitting for a blog post, please send it my way.

Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

cristian granucci said...

Brian , I'm looking for a bit of significant history regarding female firefighters? Can you tell me when the 35' extension ladder was altered with additional pulleys in order to make it more accommodating for female recruits to pass the Drill Tower?
Or,What year was it that the railroad tie portion of the LAFD physical agility exam was removed to accomadate more females on the LAFD.
United we stand,divided we fall!
Political correctness will kill us all!
Brian , please don't come back with some snarky remark! You have no idea what it is to rely physically and emotionally on the person sitting next to you in regards to firefighting! Not racist,not violent,just no longer silent!
Cristian P Granucci,Captain I
Fire Station 7"C" Platoon
Los Angeles City Fire Department

LAFD Media and Public Relations said...

Captain Granucci,

Thanks for the note and your patience. As you likely know, we're still working out of boxes on the floor of our new (smaller) office.

Despite researching multiple changes to Volume 3 of the LAFD Manual of Operations, I'm unable at the moment to find a precise date when our 35-foot ladders were modified. Ditto for the discontinuance of using the rail ties.

The reconfiguration of the 35' extension ladder "a few years ago" does indeed lessen the effort needed, yet I'm not certain what reason was stated by the LAFD Training Division for doing so at the time.

Members assigned to the LAFD Training Division (who maintain archives of Departmental training materials) may be of best help in getting you a precise date and declared reason for the extension ladder change, and those who have worked in the LAFD Recruitment Unit can likely clarify the details in the railroad tie change.

Let there be no doubt that the LAFD has made significant changes to accommodate women in our ranks. That some might be considered beyond reasonable is usually a matter of personal opinion, and a discussion for another forum.

Captain Granucci, while my answers here are sometimes lengthy, and some will say unhelpful, I'm saddened that you would predispose my reply as snarky. I admire you personally and professionally, and even more so your willingness to be forthright and passionate on this issue, which continues to have well-entrenched supporters and detractors across society and within the fire service.

That much said, the edict from the elected leaders we work for has been uniform, and the best I can hope to do is see that every man and woman who the City wishes to *consider* for the position of Firefighter is the best possible candidate our nation can offer.

In closing, please know that I post this message during Women's History Month for the historical reasons mentioned above. While Captain Marie Stack and her compatriots would likely be incapable of envisioning or meeting the challenge of today's fire service, I do admire them (yes, hoop skirts and all - see the photos in Paul Ditzel's book) stepping forward to protect our City in the midst of World War I, eight years before they had the right to vote. They were a brave and committed bunch.

That both men and women of our modern day Department largely ignore our history is the key reason for my post, and the mention of recruitment opportunities for women a way for me to make the article more robust and multi-purpose.

Captain Granucci, I thank you for your service to our City, and for a willingness to be part of the on-line and in-real-life dialogue necessary to guide our path forward.

Fraternally Yours in Safety and Service,

Brian Humphrey
Public Service Officer
Los Angeles Fire Department

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