Our Profiles in Service series highlights Americans who dedicate their lives to helping others. In this installment, we focus on the only two female battalion chiefs in the Washington, D.C., Fire Department.
When Kishia Clemencia and Queen Anunay joined the Washington, D.C., fire department, there were more than 1,500 firefighters, but just 35 of them were women. Now over two decades later, the two women have climbed the ranks and are helping to change the look of the city’s finest public servants.
“When we show up, it’s your worst day. And it’s our responsibility to help you out on your worst day,” Anunay said.
“You have to have the spirit of giving,” Anunay said. “You can’t have never run, never competed in sports. … This is what you would call a professional athlete.”
“You’ve got to be physically strong and mentally strong,” said CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford.
“Everyone doesn’t fly airplanes. Not everybody is going to run into a burning building,” Anunay said.
“A man can walk in a firehouse for the first time. And they will look at them and assume that they can do their job until they prove otherwise. When us females walk into a firehouse, they assume that we can’t until we prove otherwise,” Clemencia said.
“Once you get out of training academy and you realize when you go out into the companies, they all know your name. The members know when you’re getting a female assigned,” Anunay said. “So at that point I knew the seriousness and that we were minorities. True minorities.”
“Did some people, did you get the sense think you shouldn’t be there?” Crawford asked.
Less than 4% of firefighters nationwide are women, according to Women in Fire and United States Fire Administration, and the largely all male environment has at times fostered discrimination: more than half of the women surveyed nationwide report feeling shunned or isolated and 43% said they experienced verbal harassment.
“I had some rough time where I was accused of just sleeping around with all the firefighters. In one house,” Clemencia said. “It infuriated me so much that it motivated me to do more… and for me, my revenge was success.”
“Seeing her in position even in 1991 where there weren’t many women, it was inspiring. And when I talk with her, I said, ‘I’m gonna be in charge one day.’ She said, ‘Well, you better know your stuff,'” Anunay said. Annunay now oversees 50 firefighters at six firehouses and is passing on that same encouragement to the next generation.
“They think I can’t do it so I just have to prove them wrong, give them a reason to be like, we need more women like you to want to do this. I think we do the job better than the guys anyway,” Jones said with a smile.
“What’s their argument?” Crawford asked.
“That we didn’t earn it. That we don’t deserve it. Oh, they’re giving us this position because of the climate of women empowerment,” Clemencia said. “So I’m like, well, if that’s your opinion, that’s your opinion. I know what I’ve done to get to this point.”
As they get close to retirement, these chiefs have personal goals. Anunay is hoping to change the department‘s culture so that more women can sign up and excel. And Clemencia is also setting her sights high and hoping to advance up the ranks in the department and break even more glass ceilings for women.
Watch more from Profiles in Service:
West Point cadet Simone Askew on making history and leadership
Sisters in service: Carrying on a century-long tradition of military service
Meet the NYPD’s only female counter-sniper