Dawn Carson, East Lansing’s First Woman Fire Chief, Is Sworn In

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Andrew Graham for ELi

East Lansing Fire Chief Dawn Carson was sworn in at City Council on Oct. 5, 2021, with her parents Harold and Karen Carson in attendance.

Nearly 30 years ago, Dawn Carson, the newly appointed Fire Chief for the East Lansing Fire Department, was working in emergency medical services (EMS) at Grand Ledge Ambulance Services, in physical therapy at a local hospital, and as a Certified Athletic Trainer for Mason High School.

But then she saw an ad in the paper that said the East Lansing Fire Department was looking to hire a new paramedic and firefighter. Because she has always loved helping people and grew up watching “Emergency!,” Carson decided to quit her jobs and became a full-time student at Lansing Community College. There, she completed her paramedic and firefighter training. Shortly after, she was hired at ELFD. 

“I became a firefighter because I wanted to help people,” Carson said in an interview with ELi. “We are not strictly firefighters at ELFD. We are also paramedics. Much of our job is providing EMS to our community. EMS was my passion before I decided to go all in and get involved in firefighting. I love the fire aspect as it is physical, challenging, and requires you to work seamlessly as a team.”

Now, 27 years later, Carson has been sworn in as the new ELFD Chief. The formal ceremony occurred last night, Oct. 5, at the East Lansing City Council meeting. The room was packed with supporters, including members of Carson’s family and the ELFD team.

Carson had applied for the chief position with no expectations, but she felt that her previous experience as Interim Chief, her master’s degree in organizational management, and her years of experience and hard-work made her qualified for the job. Despite her clear qualifications for the role, Carson was moved when she learned she had gotten the job. 

“I was very humbled and honored when asked if I was interested in the position,” Carson said.  

As chief, Carson will serve as the head of the operation, a contrast to her previous job of being out in the field. With this role, she hopes to continue to be a good leader while overseeing the business of the fire department and working closely with neighboring departments. 

“Upon becoming chief, my role is not the boots-on-the-ground, but rather overseeing the business of the department,” Carson said. “I want to continue maintaining the quality services that are provided by our department to the community, and my goal is to be the best supervisor and department head I can be.”

In addition to being excited to be chief, Carson is also looking forward to being the first woman appointed as fire chief at ELFD. 

“I understand that I am the first female fire chief in our department and the first in this area,” Carson said. “I am a role model to women of all ages, and I am ready and willing to step up to those roles and responsibilities.”

Carson told ELi she is especially eager to work with the “outstanding group of paramedics and firefighters who provide excellent emergency medical services and fire protection to the community.” She is also enthusiastic about the addition of three new firefighters/paramedics and two new cadets – the latter being a new, recently implemented opportunity in the department.

Carson plans on maintaining the current services and operations of the department, and she feels ready to take on her new role as chief. 

“I am excited to be given the opportunity to serve as chief of ELFD,” Carson said. “I have held myself to a very high standard from the day I was hired. I always try to do better than the day before. I accept that there will be challenges, but that is what makes us grow and become better people and leaders. I am excited that I can be a role model for women of all ages and to show that through hard work, you can pursue anything.”

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