Almost 24 years after she answered a radio ad seeking to recruit new firefighters, Tiffanye Wesley has been selected as Arlington, VA’s southern battalion chief.
The county’s fire department tapped her for the post Sunday (Sept. 2), making her both Arlington and Northern Virginia’s first African-American female battalion chief.
There are two battalions in the Arlington Fire Department, divided between north and south, with each encompassing five stations. Wesley is chief of the southern battalion, coordinating operations not only between the five stations but with partner agencies across Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax.
“If there is a fire call, I’m in charge of that call,” said Wesley. “My job is to ensure everyone goes home safely.”
When Wesley first joined the Arlington Fire Department, she said she walked in the door with no expectations. She’d never known any firefighters or been into a fire house, and said she failed the physical ability tests twice, but she kept training and going back to try again.
Before being selected as battalion chief, Wesley was commander of the Crystal City station, Arlington’s largest and one of its busiest stations. Wesley stepped into the battalion chief role temporarily in 2016, which she said gave her an opportunity to get to know the other stations in the battalion.
“Every station is different,” said Wesley. “My goal is to go sit down with the officers and let them know up front what [my] expectations are and to give me theirs. I believe, as long as you set up right up front what you expect, it makes it easier. The problem comes in when you don’t know what your leader expects, then you tend to fall back and do whatever you want to do.”
Currently, Wesley says the department is also awaiting news of who will replace Fire Chief James Bonzano.
“Right now, the department is looking for a new fire chief,” said Wesley. “Everyone is in a holding pattern, we’re not sure who that person will be, whether they’re from inside the department or someone totally new, we will have to learn that person; their ideals and expectations.”
As Wesley settles into her new role as battalion chief, she says the outpouring of support from friends and followers of her active social media accounts has been overwhelming. Among the most interesting was a call from a fire chief in Nigeria congratulating her on the promotion.
“My promotion was not just for me, it’s for everyone who has watched me, who has been sitting back and passed over and doubted their own self, whose doubted it would ever happen,” said Wesley. “It’s all for those people. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t give up.”