Trailblazer: Cavner becomes first female captain at Scottsdale Fire Department

Scottsdale Fire Department Captain Kelly Cavner is pictured with her colleagues celebrating her promotion with dinner. (photo by Scottsdale Fire Department)

A new name is now etched in Scottsdale history, as fire engineer Kelly Cavner has been promoted to fire captain — the first woman in that role during the Scottsdale Fire Department’s 13-year history.

Ms. Cavner is a 20-year veteran, starting with Rural Metro Fire Department as a reserve firefighter in 1998. In addition, she’s a mother who raised her children in Scottsdale.

Since her promotion, Captain Cavner has been temporarily assigned to Engine 603, at Miller and McDonald roads in the heart of the city. Prior she worked at southern Scottsdale stations 601 and 602, before bidding for ladder 608 at Cactus Road and 96th Street in an effort to become more proficient in ladder functions.

“I am very proud to have obtained the position of fire captain with the city of Scottsdale,” Ms. Cavner said. “It is a competitive process and I am proud to have been a part of.”

A competitor and role model alike, Ms. Cavner points to her family as a reason for wanting to become a firefighter after finding an interest in fire science.

“My goal was to finish my degree and obtain a position as firefighter before my oldest graduated high school as I wanted to prove to my children that anything is obtainable when you set your mind to it,” Ms. Cavner says of taking college courses.

“I tested for several departments and was thankful for the opportunity to work in the city of Scottsdale as that’s where I was raising my children.”

Scottsdale Fire Captain Kelly Cavner

Ms. Cavner was hired full-time in February 2000 and later transitioned as part of the Scottsdale Fire Department in July 2005, at that time she was promoted to fire engineer.

“As a driver/operator, I was responsible for driving, operating and maintaining the fire truck,” she explained. “Responding safety to emergency fire, medical and hazardous calls.”

When Ms. Cavner sought more practice in ladder functions, she transferred to another Scottsdale station where she was responsible for a variety of jobs including vertical ventilation, vehicle stabilization and extrication using hydraulic tools and air bags.

“I hope to be the best captain, mentor or role model by using what I have learned from those before me in my short 20 years,” Ms. Cavner said.

“As for being a female, I have worked for years just trying to do my best. Lead by example, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

Scottsdale Fire Chief Tom Shannon says Ms. Cavner represents the best of SFD.

“Captain Cavner’s promotion is well-deserved,” Chief Shannon said.

“She characterizes the best of the Scottsdale Fire Department culture. She represents a fine class of promoted individuals and will serve to inspire the men and women of Scottsdale Fire to pursue their career goals.”

Scottsdale City Councilwoman Linda Milhaven is supportive of Ms. Cavner’s promotion, noting the city’s rich history of female leaders.

“The team works hard to make sure we recruit and hire and promote a diverse workforce whether its minority groups or women,” she said.

“It’s wonderful to see a woman step into a captain’s role.”

Having a diverse work group provides a broader work pool to provide the most qualified people, Ms. Milhaven says.

“I think we raise the level for everybody when we get those candidates into those roles,” she said.

Ms. Cavner pointed out a similar point, saying the fire service is made up of a competitive and diverse group of people.

“No matter race or gender, the fire service is made up of competitive and diverse people willing to put the community first in any given situation,” she said.

“It’s a family that can have loud discussions, laughing and crying at times, but is built on hierarchy.”

As fire captain Ms. Cavner says she will be responsible for keeping everyone safe by making good decisions. Being able to look at the whole picture and working with the crew is crucial, she says.

“It is the captain’s job to know our department’s guidelines and work within them while also using critical thinking and knowing when to ask for assistance when needed,” she said.

As for her own mentor, Ms. Cavner points to her husband as a large support throughout this process, and notes others varying from district chief to fire fighters whom she looks up to.

“No matter rank, I believe we build on one another,” she said. “I am excited to face new challenges as a fire captain and hope to be a mentor for others in the future.”

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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