St. Paul FD promotes first Black female captain in department history

There are 97 captains within the St. Paul Fire Department, and only one is a Black female captain.

Capt. Brittney Baker just earned that promotion last week, marking a first in department history. She spends every day on the job making sure she won't be the last.

Baker surrounds herself with inspiration, whether it's with quotes, pictures or people who lift her up the way she does for others.

"Being able to just possibly be that one positive influence that children may have in their lives, like that's why I love it and what I do it for. And then EMS runs: I love taking care of patients," Baker said.

She spends less time at the St. Paul Fire Department headquarters than she does out in the community, demonstrating what a firefighter looks like.

"I didn't get that chance. I saw Black men doing it. But I never saw Black women in St. Paul doing it," she explained.

So, she’s becoming the leader she never was able to see. She just became the first Black woman in the department's history promoted to the rank of captain.

A firefighter is a profession that has long been considered male-dominated. Department leaders said 7.6 percent of the department is female, compared to the national average of 4 percent. There are three female captains and one female captain. Women of color are even more rare.

"This isn't even the last first that we will have as a department. We've never had a Hispanic female firefighter. We've never had an Asian female firefighter," she said.

In 2018, she was only the second Black woman hired as a St. Paul firefighter in the city where she was born and raised. Now, there are four Black female firefighters. She doesn't sugarcoat how difficult the Academy was, explaining she had to seek advice from mentors in other cities.

"How to wear my hair, how to make sure that I can put my bunker stuff on differently because my body structure is different. How to make sure that ways that I would normally react or respond to something isn't perceived the wrong way as ‘the angry black girl’ even though it's just my passion and just how I talk," she said.

Now, she's the mentor, spending time each week at St. Paul Public Schools and also serving as the lead instructor for the department's EMS Academy, which is a program she went through herself in 2012.

"Everything she does is genuine and purely in the name of service," said Steve Sampson, the assistant chief of emergency medical services at the St. Paul Fire Department. "She’s an incredible role model for not only like folks out in the community but for our other department members and for me, myself."

Her supervisor said that there will come a day when there won't be more firsts in this department, but for this first, he's glad it's Capt. Baker.

"It is historic. I'm also like, ‘How do we make sure that we continue to eliminate firsts?’" Baker asked.