Moore becomes WSFD’s first black female battalion chief

Moore becomes WSFD’s first black female battalion chief
December 03
00:00 2015
Photo by Todd Luck
Fire Battalion Chief Shirese Moore with the SUV that District 3 battalion chiefs drive.

By Todd Luck

The Chronicle

When Shirese Moore became a battalion chief for the Winston-Salem Fire Department (WSFD) last month, she became the first African-American woman to hold that rank in WSFD history.

Moore, who was born and raised in Winston-Salem, was in her 30s when she decided to try firefighting. She had worked as a medical secretary for more than ten years and found the job had become too predictable. She had a friend who dreamed of being a firefighter and who she was helping train for the profession’s physical entry tests. She said hearing about the profession made her want to try it. She applied with the WSFD and in 1999, passed the agility test and the other requirements to become a firefighter. She said that although it didn’t pay as much as her old job at the beginning, it was far more rewarding. She said she liked the unpredictable challenges of the job, never knowing what will happen next. But ultimately it’s helping others that has kept her in the profession.

“One thing we do know is when we go, we’re needed,” she said.

Moore was first assigned to Central Fire Station One, a two-company station located on North Marshall Street. She said it was an adjustment to suddenly live and sleep under the same roof as nine white males during their 24-hour shifts.

“No one talked like me, no one acted like me, no one looked like me,” she said.

The fire captain gave up his sleeping quarters and bathroom to give her some privacy. She said that with more modern fire stations, there are separate rooms and bathrooms that female firefighters can use.

She said she was one of only seven females in the WSFD at the time and there were no accommodations made on the physical demands of the job. She was expected to pull her weight just like the other firefighters.

“It was truly the first time that it hit me, that it slapped me in the face, this is a man’s world,” she said.

Though she had three months of training, she said she still had a lot to learn. She said the firefighters at her station took her under their wing, teaching her something new every day.

She climbed through the ranks becoming a fire engineer and then a captain, a position she held  for more than nine years. She applied for battalion chief this year because she wanted to be more involved in the direction of the department. There were 25 applicants and several months of assessments and tests for the position. Only four were chosen as battalion chief.

While she’s the first black female battalion chief in the WSFD, she’s only the second woman ever to hold that position with the department. She said it’s not just how few females there are in the department, but how long they last, as it takes many years of experience to become a battalion chief. She said the job can be taxing both mentally and physically, especially for women with families.

“A challenge for females is enduring that job for that length of time,” she said.

As battalion chief, she works a 24-hour-on and 48-hour-off schedule, beginning at 7 a.m. She visits each of the nine stations in District Three in northeast Winston-Salem. For a structure fire or some other types of emergencies, she’ll drive to the scene in a special SUV, equipped with computers and communication equipment that will let her coordinate the response and call in additional resources if needed.

Moore regularly mentors young women at the Winston Lake YMCA and always encourages women to consider a career in firefighting.

“You can be beautiful, you can be the female you want to be, but also have that toughness: mentally and physically,” she said.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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