Making history: Meet the 3 female captains of Fairfax County’s Fire Station 37

The staffing of captains Felicia Barnes, Emily Murphy and Katja Lancing marked the first time all three captain positions at one station were held by women


When Captain Felicia Barnes was assigned to Fairfax County, Virginia, Fire Station 37 last year, she and the other two captains at that station made history. With the addition of Captain Barnes, it was the first time that all three captain positions at one Fairfax County Fire and Rescue station were staffed by women.

Barnes, along with captains Emily Murphy, Katja Lancing, have worked across from one another at Station 37 since last May, leading all three shifts out of a station that houses an engine and a medic unit, as well as several specialty rigs (light and air, foam, and special hazards.)

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue is the largest fire department in Virginia, with over 1,000 career firefighters and hundreds of volunteers. The first female career firefighter was hired in Fairfax County in 1979. Today, the department includes more than 160 career firefighters who are women.

For the first time in Fairfax County Fire Rescue history, all three captain positions at one station are staffed by women. Left to right: Capt. Katja Lancing; Capt. Emily Murphy; and Capt. Felicia Barnes.
For the first time in Fairfax County Fire Rescue history, all three captain positions at one station are staffed by women. Left to right: Capt. Katja Lancing; Capt. Emily Murphy; and Capt. Felicia Barnes. (Photo/Fairfax County Fire Rescue)

All three captains at Station 37 came up through the ranks in Fairfax County, with each accumulating 20 years or more in the fire service. Lancing and Murphy both served as volunteers before becoming career firefighters, while Barnes worked as a Fairfax County police officer prior to joining the fire department.

Pivoting to the fire service

The captains’ interest in the fire service came from diverse sources.

Lancing was working in a hardware store when she first met firefighters shopping there and began to consider her career options. She had previously completed an internship at the Pentagon while attending George Mason University.

Murphy also has Pentagon connections – she was working there as a bank teller when she was introduced to the volunteer chief from Fairfax County.

“I met with him at the station and was immediately drawn to the possibility of being in a position to help others in their time of need,” she said.

Barnes became interested in fire investigation when working as a police officer. Her original career plan was to “become a federal agent – FBI, CIA, ATF – and travel the world, so my friends were pretty shocked when I changed career paths.”

Growing a family

All three women are mothers and are proud to have combined family life with their fire service careers. Murphy is also a grandmother.

Lancing commented, “I married the love of my life, also a firefighter in the department, and we have raised a beautiful family. Having someone who understands the job, the hard days, the good times, the demands and the schedule is a true blessing. He’s my biggest supporter and I am his.”

Accomplished careers

During their years of service, all three captains have pursued additional training and certifications, including paramedic, hazmat technician, health and safety officer, master technician and various leadership trainings and other certifications.

Barnes was the World Police and Fire Games Track and Field coordinator in 2015 and served as vice president of the Progressive Firefighters of Fairfax County for several years.

Lancing cofounded the therapy dog program on the Fairfax County Fire Department and is one of two certified therapy dog handlers.

Murphy has focused on mentoring other women on the job.

The three captains work different shifts, so they do not work together directly, but “we talk all the time,” Barnes said. “Communication is open and easy. We work well together and share information well.”

Lancing echoed this sentiment: “It’s nice to know that if I’m facing an obstacle or unsure of something, I have two other women I can rely on to tell me their experiences to help me through whatever dilemma it is.”

Murphy agreed. “This has been a great experience for us to work together and grow as officers.”

Serving as a role model

The three women’s presence as leaders at Station 37 has had an impact on the community as well.

“A lot of younger girls see [us] and ask questions and their faces seem to brighten up,” Murphy observed. Lancing concurred, “While I don’t necessarily feel like a role model, I recognize that both the women on my department and the little girls who see us every day benefit from seeing women doing the job, especially in leadership roles. It opens possibilities for them.”

All three women recognize their roles not only in the history of Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, but also in its future.

“I would encourage any new women and men in the fire service to find a few good mentors to help you along the way,” Murphy said. “Ask for help, ask for guidance, ask someone that has taken those steps before to help you. This will set you up for success.”

Lancing stated simply, “I want my legacy to be having helped pave a career path for women.”

Barnes concurred: “I serve to pave the way for all women coming behind,” she said. “I want women to be bold, courageous, and confident. I want women to feel empowered and show up with a voice to be heard.”


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