Celebrating inspirational women in the fire service this Mother’s Day

For a Mother’s Day tribute, four courageous mother-daughter pairs share their personal stories and family legacy of firefighting.

May 9 • 2024

In celebration of Mother’s Day, we’re delving into the inspiring narratives of four mother-daughter fire fighter duos leading up to the special day. These remarkable women are not only challenging stereotypes but also paving the way for future generations of female fire fighters with their courage, dedication, and passion. 

While celebrating the family legacies and the bond shared by mothers and daughters in the fire service, there lies a broader story of challenges, perseverance, and breaking barriers. 

According to data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in 2020, 5 percent of career fire fighters were women. Among them is Lt. Sheila Leahy, a member of Boston, MA Local 718 and the Boston Fire Department since 2000. Reflecting on her journey, Leahy says, “When I first started, I didn’t even really know that women could be in the fire service.” 

Over the years, women have made strides in the fire service, with the proportion of female fire fighters gradually increasing, signaling a positive trend in fire departments. 

Challenges persist, however, including gender bias, underrepresentation in leadership roles, and issues with properly fitting personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Associate Professor Meredith McQuerry, of the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship, recently discussed her research in an article aimed at improving gear for female fire fighters. McQuerry says with ill-fitting gear, women are “more susceptible to slips, trips, falls” and their “risk of injury is 33 percent higher than males.” 

When I first started, I didn’t even really know that women could be in the fire service.

Sheila leahy, boston, ma local 718

Targeted recruitment efforts, mentorship initiatives, and adjustments to training and fitness criteria with inclusivity in mind have proven instrumental in broadening opportunities for women in the fire service. 

“Twenty-four years ago, I felt grateful for being allowed to be part of such an environment. Now, I’ve shifted from just blending in to feeling like I truly belong,” said Leahy. “I don’t want to blend into someone else’s work environment; I am a part of it. I want to be included in discussions about gear fitting, separate locker rooms, and such.” 

Despite obstacles, women in the fire service continue to inspire each other and those around them. “Having a family member in the field provides a firsthand connection,” said Leahy. “If people see women actively performing firefighting duties—driving rigs, pumping water, and extricating people—they’ll view it as a real possibility.” 

In this series, we’re celebrating these exceptional women who have turned firefighting into a family tradition.