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Miami Proud: Female first responders changing the face of their professions

Miami Proud: Women changing the face of law enforcement, fire rescue
Miami Proud: Women changing the face of law enforcement, fire rescue 03:31

MIAMI - Law enforcement and fire rescue in the past have traditionally been male-dominated. But in recent years, more and more women are changing the face of those professions.

In this edition of Miami Proud, we spotlight three female first responders who are moving up the ranks or are "first" in their fields.

In the middle of a scorching Miami summer, in the middle of a male-dominated police department, is a first. Officer Varmarsha Ellington is the Miami police department's first-ever female drone pilot.

"My sergeant was given the opportunity to take over the drone program and so he did, which gave me the opportunity to become a pilot. So of course, I was given the opportunity and I took it," she said.

Ellington grew up in South Florida. She graduated from Miramar High School and then from Union Institute and University. She said she's motivated by her two children, for a better life, and perhaps was always destined for a career in law enforcement.

"My mother is currently a major with the City of Miami police department," she said.

Now she's navigating a new mission in protecting and serving a community she loves.

"I'm glad to be in a position that I'm able to empower other female officers to pick up the sticks and fly a drone," said Ellington.

A cross-county colleague of Ellington in the Fort Lauderdale police department is turning heads.

Tanisha Stevens has moved up the ranks in 17 years to lieutenant.

"Moving up the ranks was not always the easiest thing as an enlisted member because one, I am a black female, and it is still a world that's dominated by men," she said.

That proved true for Stevens when she was in the military. She started as an MP in the US Army and went into the US Air Force where she served four tours.

But it was home that she missed.

As a Fort Lauderdale police officer, she saw women leaving the force. She took the sergeant's exam and kept moving up the ranks, hoping to inspire young girls.

"I always wanted to be someone they could look up to and how to get there," said Stevens.

Across town, another first responder is fanning the flames of women on the move.

Samantha Whitehorn is a District Fire Chief for Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue.

Born in Jamaica to a dad who farmed and a mother who was a secretary, Whitehorn and her mother migrated to South Florida in 1993. Years later, she befriended a firefighter and told him she wanted to do his work.

"Do you think I could do it?" she said she asked him, "And his response to me was that you wouldn't get hired. So I asked him why and he said, 'Well because you're Black and you're a female'. Well, from there, I saw red and it motivated me to pursue this career," said Whitehorn.

She went from firefighter to lieutenant to chief managing an entire district, six stations, 11 apparatus, and 18,000 calls a year.

"Could I imagine myself here back then, no, but I'm very happy that I am," said Whitehorn.

Ellington, Stevens, and Whitehorn are "flying high" in their respective careers and are making "Miami proud." Their message to young ladies everywhere.

"I would say to them be courageous, have confidence in yourself and go for it," said Whitehorn. "Keep doing it and don't stop."

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