Dany Cotton was one of just 30 female firefighters when she joined the London Fire Brigade (LFB) at the age of 18 more than three decades ago.
The 50-year-old started serving at Wimbledon fire station in 1988 and worked her way up to become the UK’s first female station officer within 12 years.
In 2017 she became LFB’s first female Commissioner, immediately encouraging more women to sign up in a bid to make the capital’s brigade more diverse.
Her 32-year career was blighted with tragedy, with the Grenfell Tower fire occurring under her watch just months after she became head of LFB.
The tower block fire in June 2017 – the worst domestic blaze since the Second World War – led to the deaths of 72 people and was described by Ms Cotton as resembling a “disaster movie”.
Ms Cotton, who underwent therapy and suffered traumatic memory loss, said the most difficult moment of her career was when she gave evidence to the public inquiry into the blaze the following year.
The fire chief said the “utter devastation” of the blaze and its impact will never leave her.
She faced criticism and calls to resign from relatives of people who died in the blaze after the inquiry’s first report found more lives could have been saved if the tower had been evacuated sooner.
She also tackled other notable disasters during her decades of service.
Just three months after joining LFB, she attended the Clapham Rail disaster in which 33 people died.
She was also at the blaze near the Olympic Stadium on the evening of the London 2012 closing ceremony, which was attended by 40 fire engines.
In 2017, the brigade under her watch responded to three terrorist incidents in the capital.
She was the first woman to receive the Queen’s Fire Service medal in 2004.