Fire Department marks firsts with new safety post

The Biloxi Fire Department has created a new battalion chief’s position that will focus on firefighter safety, and the new post is a first of another sort for the 127-year-old department: a female in a chief’s position.

But Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich, who approved Fire Chief Joe Boney’s promotion of firefighter Michelle Crowley, says it’s not a big deal.

“It’s just business,” Gilich said of the new position. “The story is that we’re focusing on firefighter safety, and promoting a proven, experienced firefighter, not because she’s a woman.”

Crowley, a veteran Biloxi firefighter who has had a role in securing $2 million in grants for the department, has been named the department’s new Battalion Chief for Occupational Safety & Health. She will work in the department’s Fire Training Division and will be responsible for developing and implementing procedures designed to minimize the risk to firefighters.

“Michelle has a degree in Occupational Safety and Health, so she brings a great deal of experience to the table in that respect,” Fire Chief Boney said. “She’s been with the department for years, and in the past 18 to 20 months she has been successful in helping secure $2 million in grants for the department.”

Crowley also will be responsible for overseeing after-incident reports and investigating any accidents or injuries involving firefighters.

“In the fire service today the majority of deaths and injuries are due to either occupational hazards or cancer,” Boney said, “so we are looking for a way to reduce the risk as much as we can, to not only protect our people while they are on the job but so they can enjoy their retirement as well.

“The job we do is a hazardous job and we want to make sure we are doing it safely and providing our people the best protection.”

She joined the department as a firefighter 23 years ago, in 1993, and was promoted to a captain in 2001. Today, she is also the department’s only female firefighter.

Boney was proud to promote the city’s first female chief, but pointed to Crowley’s experience. “She’s certainly being promoted on the basis of her ability and experience,” he said, “but, yes, this is a proud day for the Biloxi Fire Department. It shows that we look at a person’s ability, regardless of whether you are male or female, or black or white or yellow.”

Boney said at one point in the early ’90s the department had as many as four female firefighters.

The department has two to three apply each year, but most applicants, male and female, do not pass the physical agility portion of testing.

Added Boney: “Michelle’s position will be primarily administrative, in that she won’t be running to fires or working fires. She’s an administrative battalion chief dealing with after-action reviews and investigating any accidents or injuries to firefighters. But make no mistake, she’s a proven firefighter. She’s fought fires for 20 years now, and in the event of a major fire she will be on the scene and part of the incident command staff.”
See the job description for Battalion Chief for Occupational Safety & Health