Meet Harshini Kanhekar, India’s First Female Firefighter

Harshini Kanhekar, India's first female firefighter, defied gender norms, blazing a trail in a male-dominated field. Her remarkable journey inspires women nationwide, breaking stereotypes and proving that determination transcends gender in any profession.

Harnur Watta
Sep 08, 2023 16:49 IST
Image credits: Verve Magazine

Image credits: Verve Magazine

Harshini Kanhekar, a name synonymous with courage and determination, has set India ablaze with her groundbreaking journey as the nation's first female firefighter in 2002. For the past two decades, her life has been a testament to resilience, defying stereotypes and breaking through gender barriers in a male-dominated profession.

Until two decades ago, the world of firefighting in India was an exclusive domain of men. 

But then, Harshini Kanhekar emerged as a beacon of change, determined to don the firefighter's uniform and serve her nation.

Recalling her historic acceptance into the National Fire Service College (NFSC), Harshini fondly reminisces about the moment her father relayed the good news over a telegram. 


Her parents' unwavering support shines as a shining example of encouragement for daughters aspiring to work in challenging environments.

The Trailblazing Journey Unveiled

Have you ever wondered why fire incidents in movies and TV shows typically featured strong men rushing to the rescue? Harshini did. 


She envisioned herself as the hero, saving lives amid the flames. 

Her unwavering determination to pursue her dream resonates with countless women across India, inspiring them to strive for greatness.

Entering the NFSC was no small feat for Harshini. 


The initial days, surrounded by a sea of male faces scrutinising her every move, must have been daunting. 

The doubts and scepticism from her peers only fueled her determination to earn the firefighter badge and honour.


Her professors and peers at NFSC treated her as an equal, disregarding her gender, a heartening testament to progress in a traditionally male field.

Harshini's seven-semester course demanded that students live on campus, yet rules bent for her, allowing her to return home. 

This compromise between recognition and normality presented its own set of challenges.


The Fire Within

Harshini's training was gruelling, involving heavy equipment and mock drills. 

The challenges she faced extended beyond physical exertion; it included persevering through pain and societal expectations, even during her period.


Her first assignment involved responding to a cylinder blast in Shirdi while still a student. Harshini learned the ropes of firefighting while simultaneously navigating the complexities of student life.

In 2006, Harshini joined ONGC, eventually rising to the rank of Senior Fire Officer. 

She battled fires across Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi, earning accolades for her pivotal six-hour operation in a tin factory.

More Than a Firefighter

Harshini's role extends far beyond the traditional firefighter's duties. 

She has rescued civilians during floods, building collapses, river swellings, and wildlife attacks, showcasing her unwavering commitment to public safety.

Harshini Kanhekar embodies strength and resilience. Her journey serves as a testament to the power of unwavering determination and familial support.

In a world where a room full of scepticism can be intimidating, Harshini empowers women to hold their heads high and pursue their dreams.

Today, Harshini stands as a towering inspiration for women across India. 

She shatters the myth that certain jobs are gender-specific, reaffirming that any profession is open to those who dare to pursue their passion.

In Harshini Kanhekar, India has found not just a  firefighter but a trailblazing role model, reminding us all that determination knows no gender boundaries.

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