Meet Buffalo's first female African-American Fire Lieutenant

Feb 18, 2019

History made within the Buffalo Fire Department is being recognized. It now has its first-ever African-American female Lieutenant.

Shelby Thompson was formally elevated to the rank in a Valentine's Day ceremony. She was recognized the following day as part of Mayor Byron Brown's State of the City address, during which she received a standing ovation.

Buffalo Fire Lieutenant Shelby Thompson is the first African-American woman to be promoted to that rank within the Buffalo Fire Department. She was recognized by Mayor Byron Brown during his State of the City address, which happened one day after her formal promotion ceremony.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Her path to her position was uncertain. She explained following the mayor's program that she had taken the firefighter exam several years ago while searching for a means to provide a better life for her three children. She didn't get called until, she estimates, six years later.

"When I got the call, I was in the mall. I started screaming really loud and was dancing in the mall," she said. "Once I got on the department, I quickly realized I was blessed with this position to be a blessing to somebody else."

She carried two framed pictures. One was of her son, who passed away last year following an illness. The other was a drawing of a mother duck and three ducklings. Thompson explained that when younger, her children would walk behind her in chronological order. 

Did she expect she'd make history within the Buffalo Fire Department. When asked, she replied both yes and no.

"I knew I was going to be the first black female but I didn't really think about it. I didn't focus on it," she said. "It is truly humbling."

When asked about working in a mostly male environment, the lieutenant playfully likened it to working with a bunch of nagging older brothers. But there was more complimentary purpose to her family reference.

"They have your back," Thompson said. "They give you a lot of support. It's really awesome because it's a close-knit family when you get to work with a crew. You guys get to know each other. You're working with each other all the time, so you develop that friendship that turns into a family relationship."