Houston Fire dedicates truck in honor of first female firefighter stationed at Hobby Airport

Sharon Branch served as the first female firefighter and engineer at Houston Fire Station 81.

November 29, 2023

The trailblazing spirit of Sharon S. Branch is set to inspire and motivate the next generation of firefighters stationed at William P. Hobby Airport. This November, the Houston Fire Department dedicated an Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) truck in recognition of Branch, the first female firefighter and truck engineer/operator at Station 81, which is located at Hobby Airport. Branch is also among the first female engineers to reach HFD’s top ranks. She joined the Houston Fire Department in August 1994. 

“In a time when very few women, and even fewer Black females were in HFD, Sharon pioneered female entry into ARFF. This took immeasurable bravery and stands as a testament to her character,” said Jeffery Tomberlin, ARFF Captain, HFD Station 81. “Ms. Branch was promoted to Engineer Operator 19 years ago and was assigned to Station 81, becoming the first female assigned to the station. Through her years at the station, she has garnered a reputation of excellence in her vocation. She is widely regarded as one of, if not, the top Engineer Operator at Station 81.”

Branch retired from HFD in May 2023, after working for the department for 29 years. In February, three months before Branch retired, a colleague petitioned the HFD Dedication Committee and asked that an ARFF truck be dedicated in Branch’s name.


To the members of the Dedication Committee,

My name is Ryan Lee and I have served as a Senior Captain over ARFF at HFD Station 81 at Hobby Airport for the past five years. I am writing today to urge recognition of Engineer/Operator Sharon Branch, an extraordinary fire department member who has demonstrated exceptional dedication to the department. Branch has served an estimated 100 million passengers in her nearly 20 years of her Hobby Airport assignment.

As the first female assigned to Hobby, Sharon has proved to be a trailblazer and leader in many ways. She has continuously demonstrated her work ethic and dedication by nearly always being the first member to the station for shift change, often more than an hour early, every shift. She has demonstrated her job knowledge to the FAA inspectors time and time again, and she has, through our ARFF internship program, effectively taught others. Branch not only maintains an exemplary record in the fire service, but she is a leader in our community in female firefighter recruitment through decades of work as a Director with the local and National Black Firefighters caucuses. 

I request that upon Sharon’s upcoming retirement, Hobby ARFF unit AR27 be dedicated in her honor in recognition of her exemplary service to all those assigned to Hobby 81, and the countless travelers who have either safely traveled to and from Hobby Airport or been in her care in the last two decades.


Branch served on the Board of Directors for both the Black Firefighter’s Association and the National Fire Academy Grant Review Board. She also received the HFD Valor Award in 1998 for her heroic actions on the job.