Washington battalion chief paves way for daughter

Lexi McGinnis, a fire fighter with Renton, WA Local 864, follows in the courageous footsteps of her mother, Stephanie McGinnis, a retired battalion chief, honoring a family legacy of bravery and service.

May 10 • 2024

Lexi McGinnis is almost famous around the fire service in Seattle. She recalls showing up at an emergency call recently and another fire fighter saying “Hey, I know you! You’re Baby McGinnis!” 

She is that and more. Lexi has been a fire fighter in Renton, Washington, and a member of Renton, WA Local 864 for about seven years, continuing a path paved by her “badass” mother, Stephanie McGinnis, one-year retired Battalion Chief for Port of Seattle Fire Fighters, and Local 1257 member.  

Lexi carries the proud tradition of a Seattle fire fighting family, and she represents a growing number of young women who considered firefighting and said: “I’m going to do that.” Her mother was the first woman promoted to battalion chief in Washington State. 

There are still relatively few women in the fire service, even fewer with both mom and dad in the business. Her father, Merrick, joined the fire service in the late 1990s, following Stephanie’s lead. Lexi grew up with the fire service lifestyle with the shifts, the stories, the commitment to service. 

It was the coolest thing ever. Every day, you go and help people, and you do the best you can to make things better.

Stephanie mcginnis, retired local 1257 member

“I remember as a kid seeing my mom at the firehouse or on a call. I knew which one she was because I could see her big blond ponytail popping out of the back of her helmet,” Lexi said. “The decision to become a fire fighter was certainly my own, but I don’t think I would’ve considered it as an option if I didn’t have parents paving the way for me.” 

Stephanie was a hairdresser when one of her customers suggested she could be a fire fighter. She tried it out, and the first time she stepped onto a fire truck she never looked back.  

“It was the coolest thing ever. Every day, you go and help people, and you do the best you can to make things better,” Stephanie said.  

Looking back on her 27 years in the fire service, Stephanie says much has changed for women. When she first started, the sleeping arrangements for the crew was one expansive room with beds, and one shower.  

“There weren’t a lot of women when I was coming up paving the way and showing us techniques like how to carry a ladder, how to pull a hose,” Stephanie said. “All that paving the way is behind us. It’s much easier because fire fighters like Lexi have mentors now.” 

It is OK to be women and have a physical job.

Lexi mcginnis, fire fighter, local 864

Lexi got her first real taste for firefighting at age 17 at Camp Blaze, a fire camp for young women where they are offered firsthand drills and leadership development. Now three years into her professional career, Lexi hopes more young women will consider firefighting. 

With long blonde curls like her mom, Lexi says women do not have to be masculine to be good fire fighters. “I don’t have short hair and I am not super buff or anything, but I was still able to be successful. It is OK to be women and have a physical job,” Lexi says. 

Lexi’s admiration for her parents extends past their firefighting careers and into their equally active retirement. Stephanie McGinnis retired last April and Merrick retired the next day. “It was just time to get out.” They sold most of their things and put the rest in a storage unit, opting to travel and visit friends. They are currently on an extended bicycling and cruising trip through Europe.