First Black woman nominated as Milwaukee’s assistant fire chief

Chief Sharon Purifoy‐Smoots has been a firefighter since 2003

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Deputy Fire Chief Sharon Purifoy-Smoots is on track to become the highest-ranking Black female in the history of the Milwaukee Fire Department.

Aaron Lipski, Milwaukee’s fire chief, nominated  Purifoy-Smoots on Friday to become the department’s assistant chief. The department held the announcement at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society. 

“So now we get a chance to see women like me. We get to see women of color, and it lets those little girls out there that never gave firefighting a thought, now they have a thought — I can do it, she’s doing it,” Purifoy-Smoots told WDJT-TV.

Purifoy-Smoots joined the department as a firefighter in 2003, working her way up to battalion chief by 2019.

The National Fire Protection Association statistics show women make up just 4% of the roughly 358,000 career firefighters working today.

“You are opening eyes to so many people, so many kids, kids who live in neighbors like this, about the possibilities because they can see their reflections in you,” Johnson told Fox6 News.

“It is monumental for not just a single person, not just a single department. Not just a single city. It’s monumental for a fire service, monumental for our state,” Lipski told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Mayor Cavalier Johnson, the first African American to be elected as Milwaukee mayor, attended the event.

WITI reported that Purifoy-Smoots will be the highest-ranking woman in any fire department in Wisconsin. 

Purifoy-Smoots hopes her accomplishment inspires others.

“I am glad that I am first,” Purifoy-Smoots told the Journal Sentinel. “But, I know my first is not going to mean much to me unless I am directly responsible in getting the second and the third and the fourth here.”   

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