San Diego Spotlight

Women Firefighters Throughout the World

Please follow and like us!

We scoured the Internet for information on the first female firefighters throughout the world. What we found is a mix of professional and volunteer information, some of which we have included here.

First Female Firefighter on Record

Molly Williams; 1818

Women Firefighters Molly Williams
There is not much information about Molly Willams, but this book is  a beautiful introduction for children: Molly, by Golly!: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter

In 1818, Benjamin Aymar was a businessman and volunteer firefighter and in New York. Molly Williams was his slave.

There is some debate on whether Williams was the firehouse cook or if she was brought by Aymar to tend to him when he worked Manhattan with Oceanus Engine Co. 11. Regardless, she was at the firehouse when a blizzard hit the city and an influenza outbreak sickened all the male firefighters.

Then a fire call came in, and she was the only able bodied person available, so in her apron and calico dress, she dragged the pumper out into the blizzard and helped put out the fire.

Williams’ dedication earned her a nickname: “Volunteer No. 11.”


San Francisco: 1900

Women Firefighters history

Lilly Hitchcock Colt 1900 San Francisco

Lillie Hitchcock Coit (Coit Tower) was a wealthy supporter of San Francisco’s volunteer firefighters. She was called “Firebelle Lil” and considered eccentric, wearing pants and smoking cigars before it was socially acceptable for a woman to do so. Because many gambling houses were male-only, she would dress like a man to be allowed entry.

At 15, history says she watched the Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5 responding to a fire on Telegraph Hill. Because they were shorthanded, so she helped them get their gear up the hill. After this, they treated as a “mascot” of the firefighters, and made her an honorary member of the engine company in 1863.


Until 1977, women were not allowed to apply for jobs as firefighters in New York City. It wasn’t until 1982 that women finally passed the physical exam. The first paid woman firefighter in New York City was Brenda Berkman. “It didn’t matter if you were an Olympic athlete or if you were 6’ 7” tall and the strongest woman on earth,” she said. “It didn’t matter.”

Australia: 1970

Women in Australia first entered professional firefighting in the 1970s. In 2011, women make up 14% of the force.

Austria: 1993

A female fire brigade was formed in 1912, with an initial recruitment of 60 women. Women were admitted to volunteer fire brigades in 1978, and as professionals in 1993.


In 2015, 2.9% of firefighters were women, with 6.4% of these women holding the title of fire officer.

Germany: WWI/1980s

Volunteer female firefighters worked in World War I and World War II, but were replaced by men after the wars. Women began to take on all roles in the 1980s. Female professional firefighters now number about 1.3%.

New Zealand: 1981

Annie Barrie joined the NZ Fire Service in 1975 and after quite a struggle became Australasia’s (and it seems the Commonwealth’s) first professional female firefighter in 1981. In 1976 she became the first woman, possibly worldwide, to obtain a degree in Fire Engineering and in 1990 was awarded the Queen’s Commemorative Medal for Services to Women. She joined the Fire Service with her husband.

Norway: 1980

The first documented female firefighters in Norway joined the fire services during the 1980s. In 2011, 3.7% of the Norwegian firefighters were women.

Hong Kong: 1980s/1994

In the 1980s, the Hong Kong Fire Services began recruiting women as control and ambulance staff. The first firewoman was hired in 1994.

India: 2003

In 2003, the Tamil Nadu Fire & Rescue Services hired Priya Ravichandran as a Divisional Fire Officer, making her one of the country’s first female fire officers. She was the first to win a medal for bravery.

Japan: 2003

As of 2003, the Tokyo Fire Department (the second biggest fire department in the world) had 666 female firefighters – 3.8%.  In 2015, the department was comprised of 6.4% women.

Netherlands: 1939

Women firefighters have been serving in the Netherlands since 1939. In 2000, women were 3.3% of professional firefighters.

Pakistan Firefighter Parveen

First Pakistan woman firefighter Shazia Parveen

Pakistan: 2010

Shazia Parveen, 25, is the first female firefighter in Vehari, Pakistan. She lives in Karampur with her eight siblings.

United Kingdom: 1878

Women firefighters in WWI England

English Women Firefighters from WWI

Girton Ladies’ College began a women’s fire brigade in 1878. During World War I, women’s brigades fought fires and performed rescues in Southern England.

Later, in World War II, 7000 women were in the National Fire Service. Though trained as firefighters, they were primarily put to work as drivers and firewatchers. Many received awards for heroism.