By Pamela Rider
The weather was gloomy at 11 a.m. on June 22, 2023. However the light of trailblazer, firefighter and community activist Cecelia Owens Cox was illuminating during the process of recognition for being the first female firefighter at Ladder Company 9 / Engine Company 33 in NoHo Manhattan. Owens-Cox was the first woman assigned to a ladder company, and the first to be a ladder company chauffeur.
At the intersection of the Van Wyck Expressway and Sutter Avenue in Jamaica, Owens Cox received a “Street Sign Unveiling” renaming that intersection in her name’s honor. Owens Cox was born in 1951 and due to health issues passed away in 2019. Not only was her celebration of life a big union of family, friends, and loved ones, but also this remarkable unveiling to commemorate her life’s work in the community and with the FDNY an equally acknowledged gesture of her importance to all of the individuals that she touched
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards expressed his love for Owens Cox and how much she was missed by him and the community.
“She was a brainchild who became a trailblazer for black women in 1982 as one of 41 female firefighters for the FDNY.” Richards laughed saying, “She put something in the water and explained how it’s a small world with their relationship.”
The Owens family lived in their home since 1956. Richards explained that they were childhood friends, went to the same church, played together and broke bread together with her family growing up. Richards found it to be amazing to be a part of this ground breaking ceremony and added, “I’m proud and honored to be a part of this.”
FDNY Fire Academy Chief Charles Downey spoke very fondly of Owens Cox, noting how much she was missed, and how she was an inspiration to all firefighters worldwide.
“While many of our team members were going through an emotional rollercoaster when the bell rang, Cox was the first to get on the truck,” Downing said. “She was a dedicated member of the team and loved her job.
Regina Wilson, a 24-year veteran of the FDNY and past president of the United Women Firefighters (UWF) group also spoke about the impact Owens-Cox had on her.When she joined the FDNY in 1999, she was only the 12th African American woman to do so. Today she is serving in her second term as president of the Vulcan Society, an organization that advocates for Black firefighters. She is also the first woman to hold the position in the organization’s history “[Owens-Cox] was not just a coworker, but a friend. An epiphany of what we as black women stand for,” Wilson said.
She’s also in her second term as president of the Vulcan Society, an organization that advocates for Black firefighters, and the first woman to hold that position in the organization’s 83 year history.
Owens-Cox did her best to remind the women that even though they were firefighters, they were to be recognized as not only females, but as ladies. Wilson added, “Owens-Cox taught [women] to be [their’ authentic self. Cox displayed a poised statuesque, always carrying and wearing her ruby red lipstick showing her femininity.”
Cox’s Husband and daughter were very emotional as they gave their thanks for the recognition of their beloved. The now retired Andre r shared the way his wife teased him about being a ‘probe.’ Cox became a firefighter two years after his wife. While in training she loved to tease him about being on probation. At that time Owens would say, “Remember you’re still on probation. I’m your boss.”
Cox said, “She teased me like that throughout our life together and I got a kick out of it. We worked so well together on and off the job.” Cox emotionally expressed his gratitude for the recognition of the Queens Council and the Community leaders for their acknowledgement of his wife’s accomplishments.