Fifteen female fire and life safety influencers reflect on what International Women’s Day means to them

Top row (L-R) Stacy Welch, Linda Little, Lori Moore-Merrell, Dana Kamal, Lorraine Carli. Middle row (L-R) Olga Caledonia, Amy Acton, Tiffany Green, Birgitte Messerschmidt, Yuanjing Liu. Lower row (L-R) Christina Francis, Sofia Poehls, Sarah Lee, Sawsan Dahham, Inma Zeind

Today, as women in every corner of the globe consider what International Women’s Day (IWD) means to them, their families, their friends, their profession, their communities, and the future – we asked 15 fire and life safety influencers about the relevancy of  IWD. Their quotes underscore the importance of reflection, collaboration, inspiration, and gumption as women work collaboratively with others to make our world safer and better.

Olga Caledonia, director of International Development, NFPA

“This day presents an incredible opportunity to shine the spotlight on talented women across cultures who are creating circles of trust where language is not a barrier. It is a day to remember and connect with the women who inspire us to lead from within and contribute to making the world a safer place. Today, I am reminded of the spectacular woman that raised me, the young-strong willed woman I’m raising, and all the women in both my professional and personal life who believe that elevating each other is how we gain true strength – not to mention have fun along the way!”

Christina F. Francis, PE, FSFPE, Tesla, Inc., senior staff fire & regulatory specialist 

“International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate advances in opportunities for women and to focus on improvements that can lead to further positive changes on a global basis.”  

Lori Moore-Merrell, DrPH, MPH, U.S. Fire Administrator

“As a woman from the fire and emergency services, I join women leaders across the globe to celebrate International Women’s Day. This year’s Changing Climates: Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow theme means we have more work to do to expand opportunities and transform our culture to one where women who lead from top positions are not the exception, but the norm. I believe that when women lead, they do so with character, intellect, competence, and kindness. They instill trust and we move forward. I challenge other women leaders to join me as role models for the little girls who come after us. Together, we can change the landscape of our profession, our nation, and our world.”

Dr. Linda Little, assistant director of training, St. Louis (MO) Electrical JATC and chair of National Electrical Code® CMP 13

“International Women’s Day is a day to recognize and be inspired by all the fabulous women who have erased the boundaries that separate us from occupations not formerly accessible to women. It is a day that we can offer inspiration to women still searching for who they will become.”

Sawsan Dahham, head of fire and life safety, FLS expert, Dar Al Handasah, Lebanon 

“It is a day to celebrate every woman who spends her time multitasking to fulfill her ambitions, reach her goals, exceed male expectations, and be her family’s idol. It is a day to appreciate the efforts we undertake to face the world with a powerful mind and a tender heart; to stay independent, strong, kind, and beautiful.”

Birgitte Messerschmidt, director of research, NFPA

“On International Women’s Day, I give thanks to all the women before me who have made it possible for me to be where I am today. I promise to pay it forward by supporting the next generation of female leaders. Working together, we can make great strides in fire, electrical, building, and life safety.”  

Amy Acton, CEO of Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors and NFPA Board of Directors Chair

“International Women’s Day 2022 represents a significant moment to recognize and challenge ourselves as a collective in the fire service and prevention industries to recommit to sustainable change for the future. As CEO of the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, that means doubling down on our commitment to scale our resources, expand our digital delivery, diversify our Board, and strengthen our strategic partners to reach survivors everywhere. As we strive for these changes, I remain grounded and grateful for the opportunity to work with such a dedicated team of professionals who share this vision. Together, we can realize the power of community.”

Dana Kamal, NFPA advisor for the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, life safety and healthcare management 

“International Women’s Day makes every woman proud. Women have vision and missions. We face challenges and pave roads to achieve our dreams every day. International Women Day looks at various aspects in society including economics, politics, healthcare, and more so that we can support women around the globe and inspire all members of society to continue innovating and advancing.”

Tiffany Green, fire chief, Prince Georges County (MD)

“When it comes to women in the fire service - we’re underrepresented; it’s a male-dominated field. And without women in these visible and pivotal roles, an entire generation’s idea of who can be a firefighter/EMT is limited - because you can’t be what you can’t see. That’s why I was honored to become the first female fire chief in Prince George’s County. But my achievement is just the beginning of the work we need to do - it’s important to ensure that I am not the county’s last female fire chief. I am proud to say that now - thanks to our focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion - the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department has seen the most diverse pool of applicants in its history. That’s what International Women’s Day means to me - making space and creating opportunities for all women to rise and reshape the norms that hold us back.”

Stacy Welch, PE, vice president, fire protection & life safety, Marriott International

“To me International Women’s Day is a celebration of the amazing contributions women make all around the world, but it is also a call to do more. Everyone, regardless of gender, has a role to play to ensure women reach their full potential and then we all win!”

Yuanjing Liu, NFPA representative in Beijing, China

“Women are the mothers of mankind. They are the backbone of the family, the main body of social life, and an important force for social development. Broad masses of women have made indelible contributions to our world. International Women’s Day is not only a time to highlight the achievements and innovation of women, but also to bring attention to the issues that still divide us.”

Sarah Lee, CEO, National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC)

“International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate all women who have taken chances, forged new paths, and created new futures. I am reminded daily that women still make up just a small percentage of the fire service – we have work to do to ensure women know their place is in the firehouse, in the boardroom, in leadership roles, or wherever they want to be. I salute the many women who have broken down barriers to follow their passion, opening doors for the women and girls who will come behind them and who will dream even bigger dreams because of them.”

Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach & Advocacy, NFPA

“International Women’s Day is recognition, support, and advancement of the growing and significant contributions of women everywhere in every field. When it comes to fire and life safety, that means more lives and property better protected.”

Ing. Sofia Poehls, risk engineering director, Leza, Escriña y Asociados S.A.

“Today is a reflection day. It reminds us to seize the opportunity to grow better as a society in each aspect of our lives. It encourages us to champion equal opportunities for everyone. This is our time to look into ourselves, to listen, to make injustices visible, and to embrace and foster opportunities for positive change.”

Inma Zeind, industry solutions account manager, NFPA

“To all the women from different countries and cultures: yes, we are making this world a better place. Thanks to our kindness, determination, and caring hearts. Cheers to all of us!”

Today, and throughout the coming year, consider what it means to be a woman in the workplace and in the world. Be inspired by International Women’s Day and the 15 women quoted here and help #BreakTheBias.

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Cathy Longley
Communications Manager, informing stakeholders about NFPA thought leadership, subject matter expertise, resources, initiatives & research.

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