It was a pivotal moment for Green, who wondered what those men had that she didn’t that allowed them to get to the top.
Turns out, nothing.
Twenty years after that first week of recruit school, Green has taken the helm of the Prince George’s County Fire Department, becoming its first female and youngest chief.
Green, 44, is serving on an interim basis as she awaits a confirmation vote set for early next year by the Prince George’s County Council.
Green takes over as the 13th fire chief of one of the largest fire and EMS systems in the nation that relies on both career firefighters and volunteers. She also joins the elite ranks of about 70 female fire chiefs out of more than 29,000 departments nationwide, according to an informal survey from the Women Chief’s Council.
“It speaks to a new era,” said Donna Black, co-chair of the Women Chief’s Council and the chief of the fire department in Duck, N.C., who notes that Green is also one of at least four female fire chiefs in the Washington region.
Green did not start her career with her eye on the fire service. She enrolled at George Washington University with plans to become a doctor. As part of her studies, she took an EMT course and had to go on an ambulance ride-along, and she wound up at Station 842, not far from where she grew up in Fort Washington. Green later went to work for the federal government. But she still volunteered at the firehouse.
“I enjoyed volunteering and helping people better than my 9-to-5 government job,” said Green, who has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia Southern University and a master’s from American Public University.
In 1999, Green quit her day job and joined the Prince George’s fire academy.
In recruit school, Green immediately faced the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated profession. One male instructor was “pretty demeaning” and “basically didn't think we could do it,” Green said.
But one task for recruits in particular — heave a 24-foot ladder from the firetruck and raise it against a wall for a rescue — made her realize she could do anything demanded of her male counterparts.
“When I first did it as a recruit, the male instructor offered me no other instruction than, ‘Watch me do it,’ ” Green said of heaving the 100-pound ladder. “He threw it up, brute strength, against the wall and said, ‘Now your turn.’ ”
Green tried to mimic him, but she started wobbling after lifting the ladder from the firetruck and could barely sling it over her shoulder before a female instructor came to help.
“You’re never going to be as strong as the biggest guy on the truck, but you have the tools to get the job done,” Green recalled the female instructor telling her.
With the instructor’s advice, Green tried again, letting the ladder rest on her thighs before she lifted using her lower body. She successfully raised the ladder.
It’s a skill she said she teaches other female firefighters decades later.
In her 24 years in the fire service — including her four years as a volunteer — Green served as a firefighter, paramedic, station commander and deputy fire chief. She also oversaw the training academy and high school cadet program.
In appointing Green as chief, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said she didn’t appoint her because she is a woman but because “she is best qualified.”
As Green starts her tenure leading the department of roughly 900 career firefighters and 1,000 volunteers, she said she is still working to determine her priorities. She said she has already set in motion changes to improve community engagement and education.
“The goal is to prevent the call,” said Green, a Prince George’s resident who has a daughter who attends Bowie State University and a husband with two daughters.
And Green said she hopes her start as a volunteer will help her navigate clashes that sometimes arise in the county between volunteer firefighters and career staffers.
Green’s experience finding success in a male-dominated profession gives her the strength and work ethic to face future challenges, said Toni Washington, Green’s mentor and the first African American and first woman to serve as the fire chief in Decatur, Ga.
“She has a very strong, commanding presence, and she’s very determined,” Washington said. “She has always strived high and worked hard.”
Green credits a group of mentors who put her on the path to command. They encouraged her to take the promotional exam to become a lieutenant, and she became the first woman to take top marks.
Throughout her career, Green said, she has encountered older men who have questioned how quickly she rose through the ranks. They have suggested she was given special treatment as a woman. But Green always has a response.
“It may appear fast to you, but if you come out number one on all of your exams, it’s going to be fast,” Green said. “I don’t say it in an arrogant way, but I’ve earned my position to be here. Although my path was faster, it wasn’t any easier.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Green received her bachelor’s degree from George Washington University. She received it form Columbia Southern University.