Miami Beach names first female firefighter to rank of division chief

For Miami Herald. 

Sitting at the Miami Beach City Commission meeting on a recent Wednesday, Lt. Digna Abello waited alongside colleagues to be recognized for their recent promotions.

Abello, who was announced last, was promoted to the chief of training and support services for the Miami Beach Fire Department. She is the first female firefighter to reach the rank of division chief in the city’s history.

“Today is a special day because women have to work twice as hard,” Commissioner Deede Weithorn said.

Abello, 32, who has been with the department for more than nine years, does not see it that way.

“I don’t really think it’s that much of a difference,” Abello said. “I work with a great group of men and women that don’t look at it as gender-based.”

Miami Beach Fire Chief Virgil Fernandez recognized Abello’s commitment almost immediately.

“Very early on I observed her tenacity and dedication,” he said.

Fernandez joined the Beach fire department in February. When he assessed the department, he recognized that training needed special attention, and called for someone well-versed in the latest trends, equipment and technology.

Some of Abello’s new job duties include being in charge of training for the department’s 192 firefighters, recruiting and training new firefighters, meeting accreditation standards and adhering to the requirements of federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“The major advancements in the fire service has come in training and technology,” Fernandez said. “I wanted a strong leader that is well respected by the fire department.”

For Fernandez, Abello met all of the requirements for her new post. And while he did not take into account her gender, he thinks it’s worth mentioning.

“It has been a male-dominated profession,” Fernandez said. “To be able to exceed and to break down the barriers, perform at a level where you are just as good as the men you are working with and be fully capable of holding these positions are definitely worth noting.”

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