Angelica Stroud Greene was promoted to battalion chief in August 2020 after more than 23 years with the Durham Fire Department. As the department’s first Black woman to serve in the position, Angelica hopes to inspire other women and people of color to join the force.
By Hannah Lee
A female firefighter is a rarity in the Durham Fire Department, which is mostly composed of white men. There are only 19 total, or less than 5% of the force.
Even more rare? A Black female battalion chief. Angelica Stroud Greene was given the title in August 2020, a department first. There was no commemorative ceremony to mark the momentous occasion, but Angelica’s infectious smile makes it clear how she feels about the promotion.
Her ascension comes as the department rethinks how it hires women and people of color. According to the 2020 National Fire Protection Association, the national average for career female firefighters is still just 4%; comparatively, Durham Deputy Fire Chief Chris Iannuzzi says their staff currently sits at 4.7%. Minorities overall make up less than 25% of the department – many of whom, like Angelica, never considered a career in firefighting.
“I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up,” the North Carolina Central University graduate says. “I wanted to be a child psychologist. That was the dream.”
Angelica, chock-full of perseverance, joined the force in March 1993 after several encouraging pushes from her landlord, Frank Delucia, who was a firefighter at the time. She gave him a hard no for three years. But old memories of close encounters her family had with fire continued to burn in her mind. Her nieces and nephews got trapped inside their fire-engulfed home and ended up with severe burns, and her uncle sustained burns in a smaller kitchen fire. Everyone thankfully survived, but Angelica can still hear the screams over roaring flames and the frantic calls thereafter.
“It was like, ‘You know what?’” Angelica recalls. “‘I’ve had all these occurrences with the fire department, and maybe I should just give it a try.’”
Those first few years were often tough. She grew up with three sisters, so she wasn’t attuned to communicating with men on a daily basis. Working out with them was entirely foreign. But she kept up. When she wasn’t getting the hands-on practice she needed at the department, she spent hours at volunteer stations – throwing the ladder off and onto the truck, running drills, whatever needed to be done. Through her own training, she found modifications or new techniques that helped her perform just as well as her classmates, if not better.
“Early on in my career, it was a bit of a challenge, because you look out and you don’t see anybody who looks like you,” she says. “As I’ve moved through the ranks, things have gotten a little bit easier. And I say easier [due to] the fact that now I’m used to not really seeing a lot of women, and I hate to even say that because I didn’t want to get used to it.”
Today, Angelica works 24-hour shifts while overseeing five stations, 35 firefighters and seven captains. As commander, her list of duties is long, but she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“If nothing else, I just hope my story reaches one other African American female [who wants] to come and join this organization,” she says. “I really didn’t know what I was getting into 24 years ago, but I’m glad I did. I’m grateful that I’m here.”