“I’m like how is she gonna do some of these things? There were other ladies in the class as well, but some of them had a larger frame. Tiffanye was probably the smallest.” reflected Tom Polera.
Polera served as Tiffanye Wesley’s training instructor at the Arlington County Fire Department, nearly 25-years-ago. She failed her physical agility test twice.
“A lot of my friends said ‘why do you want to do this? You’ll never make it in this male dominated profession. At first I was discouraged, but that actually made me want to do it even more. So I went out, I trained for it, I prepared for it.”
On her third and final attempt, she passed her physical agility test.
She spent the next two and a half decades continuing to train and prepare. She served as the commander of the county’s largest station, Crystal City. And even temporarily filled the role of battalion chief in 2016.
“I always admired her tenacity…. every time I came in the bunk room she was on the floor doing sit ups.” laughed Clare Halsey, who attended recruit school with Wesley.
Wesley admitted there were tough times, even lawsuits, and for years she worked, to prove the naysayers wrong. But recently, her attitude changed.
“I stopped trying to do stuff to prove someone wrong, but to do stuff to prove myself right. To prove that I deserve to be here, to prove that I had worked hard and deserve everything that was coming in my direction.”
Like her recent promotion to Southern Battalion Chief.
“When I got the phone call I screamed at the top of my lungs with excitement!”
The promotion makes her not only Arlington, but Northern Virginia’s first female African American battalion chief. And has earned her well wishes, and attention, from firefighters, and fans around the world.
“It didn’t happen overnight. I was passed over just like many of the people that have been reaching out saying that ‘they’re tired, they’re getting discouraged,’ — you just can’t give up. That’s my message.”
“Believe that it’s possible. Don’t worry about whether someone else puts value in you — put the value in yourself. Believe that you can do all things that you put your mind to.”
Wesley would like to thank her family for their unending love, and support. She has multiple children working as first responders (and in retail!) and her husband is a lieutenant with the department.