Meet the first Black woman fire chief in New England: ‘I was told no so many times’

Abu Mubarik October 17, 2023
Chief Shelly Carter. Photo: NBC Connecticut

Get to know Chief Shelly Carter; she is New England’s first Black female fire chief. Her journey dates back to a time when her son came across a fire truck while she was pushing him in a stroller.

Her son was amazed by the fire truck but she didn’t want to interrupt the work of the fire officers. They would notice Carter, approach her, and encourage her to apply to become a fire officer.

She was initially hesitant about the offer but eventually accepted the challenge. “I can’t do this,” Carter recalled telling herself. “I’m a girly girl. This is hard work.” But she applied and joined the Hartford Fire Department in July 1999.

After more than two decades of service, she is now New England’s first Black female fire chief. The Hartford native became the chief of the Southbury Training Center Fire Department in December 2022.

While she was with the Hartford Fire Department, she became one of the city department’s first female engine drivers, retiring as the captain of Engine 10 in 2021 before joining the Connecticut Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security in May 2021 as the operations and training manager for the state, according to Ctinsider.

“It’s an honor, but most importantly, it is my responsibility and my duty to mentor, to be an example and to be that leader that other folks, not just in Connecticut, but of course in New England look up to,” she told Ctinsider about her new role.

Before enlisting as a firefighter, Carter said she wanted to be a news anchor. This led her to the school for communications and she held several jobs before considering firefighting. She chose firefighting as a career path after scoring high in the fire test over the police test.

Carter, a mother of five, hopes her trailblazing role will inspire other black women to choose a career in firefighting. This led her to establish the Girls Future Firefighter Camp for girls ages 13-18 to experience first-hand a career in public safety. What is more, she also mentors other women in the field about managing their careers and home.

“I’m a huge advocate for women in the fire services, and that’s simply because I was told no so many times,” Carter said.

“It’s hard sometimes being female and being that mom and wanting to be that leader,” she continued. “It’s important for me to have the conversation with ladies, not just about being firefighters, because it’s a whole different mindset in the firehouse when you’re working as the only female or female in leadership to all men.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 17, 2023


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