Becoming a member of the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) never crossed TA’Ana Mitchell’s mind. After high school, the L.A. native attended California State University Dominquez Hills where she received her bachelor’s degree in physical education. A year later, she attended California State University Penn, where she received a master’s degree.
Mitchell has worked in the military for 16 years. In 2000, Mitchell enlisted in the Army and later the Air Force. Today, she is the first African American female the LAFD has hired in over 13 years.
“It’s unfortunate that it took 13 years,” said Mitchell. “I never put a lot of weight on my shoulders about it. I always tell myself I can’t fail, I have female cousins, aunties, great aunties, my grandmother, and my great grandmother and I am doing it all for them. I also did it for every Black female. It is hard for women to get to the next step in whatever we do. If we are too hard, we are bitchy, if we voice our concern, we are emotional, unstable and we can’t do the job.”
Mitchell was recruited by Los Angeles County Hazmat Captain Alvin Brewer while she was working out at the 24 Hour Fitness in Compton.
“Every time he saw me, he said, you need to become a firefighter, come by the station and visit,” said Mitchell. “One day I just gave up and I visited—and it was boring. It was a hazmat station so there is nothing going on, no calls.”
Captain Brewer later transferred Mitchell over to Captain Brent Burton.
“From the time I touched the doorbell at 6:40 in the morning until dinner about 9 p.m. I was busy. He kept me on my toes. He was militant, aggressive, yet friendly, hardcore yet passionate and I liked everything about him. He reminded me of my father,” said Mitchell.
Later, Mitchell spent a day volunteering with the LAFD, and was asked to go on a “ride along.”
“That shift I saw two fires, two single family dwelling fires,” said Mitchell. “I saw the teamwork, the intensity, the passion, the reliance of firefighters who just never gave up and the rest is history.”
At the time, Mitchell was working as a middle school and high school physical education teacher. Once she decided that she wanted to become a member of the LAFD, she retired from her day job.
“The reason why I resigned, is because becoming a firefighter takes so much,” said Mitchell. “I don’t have that fast learning curve, so I needed time to devote to this. So I resigned and worked minimum wage mediocre jobs. The rest of the time I had, I spent studying for fire exams, different types of fire tests, and working on my oral interview skills. I completed my EMT, my CPR and switched my career field over in the military from recreation and outdoors to airport rescue firefighter.”
During the next two years, Mitchell worked on making herself a better candidate.
“I didn’t want to walk in the door and say yeah, I’m a female, and yeah I’m Black you need me, because of those two qualities. So, I did a lot of ride a long’s,” said Mitchell.
Later, Mitchell worked as a reserve, a non-paid volunteer position, for the Compton Fire Department. There she received behind the scene training. Mitchell learned the history, traditions, and many other techniques and unwritten rules.
Finally, Mitchell made the decision to work for the city.
“I know women who work for county—White, Black, Asian,” said Mitchell. “Some of the women who had a hard time told me ‘it’s going to be easy in the tower, all you have to do is show up. Don’t worry it’s going to be given to you.’ I didn’t want that, I didn’t want that easy way. I didn’t want to hear people say it was given to her because she is a female so it doesn’t matter if she crews up in the tower who cares.”
Mitchell believed she would be challenged in the city department.
“I knew city was not going to give it to me, I knew I was going to have to earn it but, I didn’t mind that,” said Mitchell. “County and city are the same. They cover Los Angeles, it’s the same fire department, with the same mission, they wear the same uniform, but they have two different mindsets.”
During Mitchell’s time with the LAFD, she has not been discriminated against by her crewmembers.
“I never experienced any racism, sexism, or any type of discrimination. They may do it behind closed doors or say it underneath their breath, but not face-to-face and I hope I never do,” said Mitchell.
As far as future plans are concerned, Mitchell is taking her rookie year one shift at a time.
“I am not even thinking about my future right now, I am just trying to get through my probationary year, accomplish that so that I can earn my shield,” said Mitchell. “But, I would also like to be in recruitment, I like fire prevention. We also have a wellness program and if I can’t do that then, I will work as a peer grouper.”
Mitchell encourages women who are pursuing a career in either the military or the fire department to be patient, study the job qualifications and to work on themselves.
“Nothing of greatness comes easy, if you want to become a millionaire, it’s not going to happen overnight, it takes time,” said Mitchell. “So be very patient and work on your craft, work on you and when the door opens, you need to be ready. If you’re not ready, it’s a problem. My father and my mother always told me if you stay ready, you never have to get ready.”