PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – She may be the first, but she’s determined not to be the last. For this week’s Black History Month profile CBS3’s Janelle Burrell spoke one-on-one with Philadelphia Fire Battalion Chief Lisa Forrest. And, while she may be petite in stature, she’s making a mighty impact.Philly Police Identify Suspect, Edward Prince, Wanted In Fatal Hit-And-Run That Dragged 60-Year-Old Feet Nearly 300 Feet
“I’ve always been a daredevil, anything that anybody told me that I couldn’t do or shouldn’t do, I always did the opposite,” Forrest said.
She stands 4-foot 10-inches, and when she started at Philadelphia Fire Department’s Fire Academy she weighed less than 100 pounds.
“Although it’s been 17 years, I still remember my first day,” Forrest said. “It was challenging putting the gear on at first because it didn’t fit, it was too big. Inside, I’m like what did I get myself into. I knew that people were watching, not because they were cheering me on, some people were looking for me to fail and I didn’t want to give them that satisfaction.”
That tenacity has fueled Lisa Forrest since childhood.
But she didn’t start out wanting to be a firefighter. Forrest — born and raised in Philadelphia — wanted to go into medicine.
“And then I found out many years of schooling,” she said.
So she set her sights on nursing. Joining the military to help pay for school, but then got injured and heard the fire department was hiring.
“My ultimate goal was to go back to college and become a nurse, but the joke is on me. After five years, I got my first rank as lieutenant and just kept on going ever since,” Forrest said.
In a department where 95% of the firefighters are men, it took every ounce of determination to prove naysayers wrong along the way.READ MORE: Police Investigating ATM Robbery At Northeast Philadelphia Convenience Store
“My very first station when I graduated the academy in 2004. I remember the dirty looks and the standoffish behavior from some of the men but when they saw that I was doing my job, it just went away,” Forrest said.
From lieutenant, she rose to become the fire department’s first black female captain. And late last year, she went further becoming its first-ever black female fire battalion chief.
And another first – she’s the department’s hazmat chief as well.
“I got the name ‘lionheart’ back in the fire academy because they said I had heart. I was determined,” Forrest said.
And she’s accomplished all of it while having two children since joining the department.
“I felt like anything a man can do, I can do as well. My size doesn’t define me, It’s what’s inside,” she said.
At 39 years old, there’s a lot she still hopes to accomplish.
“I want things to have been better because I’ve been here,” she said. “And I knew back then if I could do it maybe I could be an inspiration to somebody moving forward.”
Of the 2,200 firefighters in the Philadelphia Fire Department, only 115 are women, and just 50 of those women are black.
Chief Forrest says she wants women especially to know that firefighting is a career, that is possible and it’s possible while having a family.MORE NEWS: Fire Crews Rush To Battle 2-Alarm Blaze At New Castle County Apartment Complex
She said at work, she’s Chief Forrest — at home, she’s mom.