Kevin Cody

New El Segundo Battalion Chief Deena Lee makes history

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El Segundo Fire Chief Chris Donovan introduces new Battalion Chief Deena Lee. Photo by Kevin Cody

by Fire Chief, El Segundo Chris Donovan

(Editor’s note: The following story is excerpted from Fire Chief Chris Donovan’s introduction of Battalion Chief Deena Lee at her ‘pinning’ ceremony last Thursday at City Hall.)

Telling individuals that they have been hired or promoted is the best part of my job.  But today it feels a little special as I get to say, for the first time in my career, that the person receiving the promotion “Is Making History.”  Deena Lee will become the first female battalion chief officer in the entire South Bay region.

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The El Segundo Fire Department motto is “Courtesy and Service.” Interestingly, this has been a personal theme for Deena for decades, although she didn’t start off wanting to be a firefighter. Deena knew she wanted a job of service and helping people, but in the early days that was in the capacity of a restaurant server. For 10 years she worked hard making sure people received the right orders. A career in the fire service was not even in her sights. If not for a fellow co-worked at the restaurant where she worked, she would not have enrolled in her first EMT class.

She and her co-worker took that EMT class and her quest for learning, coupled with her competitive spirit was on full display. That EMT class led Deena to the Emergency Room of Long Beach Memorial Hospital where she started her new career as an Emergency Room Technician (yet another way of serving people).  Deena told me she would often perform CPR for over 20 minutes, earning her the nickname “Zena” (daughter of Zeus in Greek Mythology). During this period, members of the Long Beach Fire Department invited her to do a ride-along.

Deena still had no thoughts of becoming a firefighter. She didn’t see the job of firefighter as a career choice, because she didn’t see women firefighters. But the Long Beach Firefighters told her that she would be a perfect fit and after a ride-along at FS #2 the hook was set.

Her competitive nature kicked in again and she continued riding-along with Long Beach Fire (hitting quite a few of the 23 fire stations). Deena told me that ER Doctor Zumer knew Deena was going to be a firefighter before Deena knew.  Dr. Zumer saw the glow of excitement on Deena’s face whenever she would bring a patient into the emergency room during her ride-along.

Deena switched majors from nursing to fire science and began to prepare for the Biddle (physical agility test). She was hired by the La Habra Heights Volunteer Fire Department and was put into an 18-week academy, spending all weekend in La Habra Heights and working nights in the Emergency Room. At La Habra Heights, Deena went on several brush fires, staffing the Forest Service Engine, and on one of those campaign fires was joined by La Verne Fire Department.  The members of La Verne Fire were impressed by Deena’s work ethic and encouraged her to become a volunteer firefighter with them. At the time, Deena was raising two kids, working 40-hours in the emergency room and volunteering Fridays at La Habra Heights Fire and Sunday’s at La Verne Fire.

After 13 entry-level tests over three-and-a-half years, Deena was hired by El Segundo Fire Department in 2003. Once off of probation, she obtained fire officer certification and became Urban Search and Rescue Certified.  In 2007, Deena took the fire captain exam and was promoted.

Deena will be the first to tell you that it is her sense of duty to serve, her experience, ambition to be a role model for women and most importantly desire to make a difference in people’s lives that has made today possible. ER

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