When Jennifer Forslund joined the New Haven Fire Department — unexpectedly — in 1997, she could not have anticipated that she would one day become the city’s first female deputy chief fire marshal.
Last month, Forslund chipped away at the glass ceiling to do just that. On Jan. 13, she became New Haven’s first female deputy chief fire marshal in the fire department’s 157-year history. A member of the force for 23 years, Forslund climbed the department’s ladder since joining only a “handful” of women who worked there in 1997. In her new role, Forslund will focus on educating the New Haven community on fire safety and inspecting buildings to ensure the community is complying with the fire code.
“You came to work and, regardless of your gender, just showed what your abilities were. Showing that you were capable, that you were trainable, that you were resourceful and diligent; they really treated you as an equal,” Forslund said in an interview with the News about entering the historically male-dominated profession.
First a college student at Southern Connecticut State University who unloaded trucks and waited tables on the side, Forslund drew on early work experiences to hone the physical strength she would use as a firefighter. Though she did not initially see herself joining the department, she was searching for a profession that would allow her to “give back” to the New Haven community. The job of firefighter offered her that opportunity.
Though one of only a few women on the force at the time, Forslund said she felt welcomed into the “big family” of the fire department.
For her, this statement takes on a more literal meaning — Forslund’s father is a former fire department captain. When she first joined the force, he swore her in. Though she had not intended to choose the same career path, she said she “ended up following in his bootsteps.”
Several Yale students said they felt encouraged by Forslund’s
“It’s always exciting to see women appointed or elected to powerful positions in their respective fields because it’s indicative of an increasingly inclusive professional space,” Emma Wallner ’23, the Women’s Leadership Initiative government chair, told the News in an email.
Forslund hopes to emulate the role models that so influenced her experience in the fire department. She told the News that she tries to be resourceful, knowledgeable and empathetic in her work, as she learned from leaders and mentors like Allyn Wright, a former New Haven fire chief who upheld the same values.
Before obtaining her current position, Forslund worked as a fire inspector since 2016. Last summer, she helped investigate a case of arson at Diyanet Mosque. The fire, which federal inspectors quickly declared intentional, drew local and national condemnation, especially as it came on the heels of several other high-profile threats to places of worship.
Over the course of the arson investigations, Forslund worked with other agencies — including the state police and federal authorities — that she will also collaborate with in her role as deputy chief fire marshal.
Forslund is now one of 13 women in the fire department. She currently serves as acting fire marshal while the city continues its search for someone to permanently fill the role.
Previously, the highest positions in the fire department that females had attained were assistant drill master and captain.