Meet Regina Wilson. Up until her late twenties, Regina’s professional story was one that a lot of women can relate to. She was working in a corporate job, in real estate specifically, just going through the motions. Not only did she find her work unfulfilling, it made her pretty miserable. She knew she wanted more for her life. So, rather than stay the course of complacency like so many people do, Regina decided to take a big risk by making a major career move. She tossed aside her business suits and set out to become a firefighter in the biggest and most elite fire department in the world, the Fire Department of New York. It was a move that would dramatically change the course of her life in so many different ways.

On September 11, 2001, Regina, the then 32-year-old firefighter with only 3 years on the job with the FDNY, was called to the most inconceivable emergency of her new career. She, among countless others, was a 9/11 first responder, assisting in the search, rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site. Her firehouse – Engine 219 in Park Slope, Brooklyn – lost 7 members that day. Compounding her loss is the knowledge that on that morning, prior to the first plane hitting the North Tower, a fellow firefighter offered to trade assignments with her. He died later that day.

Today, Regina Wilson has been a member of the FDNY for twelve years. She is one of only 29 women in a workforce of over 10,000 firefighters and fire officers. She does what most women and men wouldn’t want to do, professionally or voluntarily… she puts her own life on the line to keep other people safe. But more importantly for Regina, being a firefighter is a job she loves to do, it’s work that fulfills her and the fire department is an organization that she is very proud to represent.

Regina’s list of accolades and accomplishments as an FDNY firefighter is a long one. Among her regular work duties, Regina is also an Equal Employment Opportunity instructor, President of the United Women Firefighters Organization and a member of the FDNY Incident Management Team. Regina has also been a member of the FDNY’s ceremonial unit since 2004 and uses her gift of voice to sing at major events, including those for 9/11 families. She has been honored with many other singing opportunities including sporting events with the New York Mets, Yankees and Rangers, the New Jersey Nets and the WNBA. She has also had the privilege to sing for President George W. Bush and Prince Harry of Great Britain.

Lead Photo Credit: FDNY firefighter Regina Wilson working on 9/11 courtesy of Alex Camacho

Editor’s Update 9/11/17: Regina is now one of 63 women FDNY firefighters, the largest number of women in the department’s history. She also works as an instructor at the Fire Academy on Randall’s Island, and continues to spearhead critical efforts to diversify the FDNY, focusing heavily on women’s recruitment. In 2015, Regina was elected the first female President of the Vulcan Society of black firefighters.