‘I am so honored’: Fairfax Co. Fire and Rescue appoints its first Black female battalion chief

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Felicia Barnes.(Courtesy Fairfax County Fire and Rescue )

A firefighter has made history at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue with her recent appointment as battalion chief.

“I am so honored to be the first Black female battalion chief,” said Battalion Chief Felicia Barnes.

Barnes, a Fairfax County native and Mount Vernon High School graduate, said the support of her colleagues as she moved up the ranks at the department played a big role in her success in a career that, several years ago, she didn’t even have on her radar.

Barnes’ first job serving the community was a Fairfax County Police officer and she had thought her future would remain in that field.

“I never thought that Fire and Rescue was even an option or a thought process in my head. I wanted to go off and do some kind of federal government, federal agency type thing,” Barnes told WTOP.

Her interest in the fire department grew as she got to know firefighters during calls to incidents in the county. She would quiz the firefighters about the job and what it entails, and their responses intrigued her.

“So I applied, not knowing that it would be something that I just absolutely love. I love the opportunities that it has given me with the different … jobs within the fire department,” Barnes told WTOP. “I just enjoy the Fire and Rescue Department. I enjoy serving the community.”

The career shift was a big change, she said, as she went from being alone in a patrol car during her shift to being a part of a team responding to fires, crashes and other incidents. Another big change was how her view of the public changed.

“You’re received differently and loved on differently as a firefighter than as a police officer. But always ready to serve the community,” she said.

She said her colleagues at the fire department quickly became family and were key to her success, as many would help train her to become the best she could be.

“There were people that just believed in me. And it did, it really did empower me,” she said.

Barnes said in these roles she wants to inspire others and lead by example.

“I want people to realize that they can, as well, take promotional tests and be able to develop and have opportunities within the department as well,” she said.

Her advice to others, especially other Black women and girls searching for the right career: follow your dreams.

“Just be strong, be courageous, go after what it is that you want to do and don’t take no for an answer. Keep going,” Barnes said.

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Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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