Don’t tell Kayla Riggs that she’s “just a girl”.
Riggs, the Deputy State Fire Marshal with the Mississippi Fire Marshal’s Office, was born to lead, protect, and serve. After all, her father is Jeff Riggs, who was involved in law enforcement for 37 years.
Her own prestigious career in law enforcement proves that she had no problem successfully filling his esteemed shoes, but she’s also breaking down gender stereotypes with some mighty impressive shoes all her own.
Riggs’s career in law enforcement began in 2014 as an investigative agent with the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
In 2016 she resigned from the agency to join the United States Army, where she enlisted in the nation’s first integrated class of women in the infantry military occupational specialty. In fact, Riggs said one of her proudest moments in life was graduating in the Army’s first class of female Infantryman.
Riggs takes pride in overcoming what she says is an all too common obstacle, being a female in a position of power in the workplace.
“Specific to my own career, being a woman in law enforcement and in the military came with its own set of hurdles, but with steadfast determination and good ole’ female grit and charm, I’ve proven to myself and many other women both young and old that females are capable of excelling in any profession they choose, even the male-dominated ones,” she said.
Upon her graduation in 2017, she continued to demonstrate courage and determination as a paratrooper, and in 2019 she began working for the Mississippi State Fire Marshal’s Office as a Fire Investigator and K-9 Handler.
In her position as Deputy State Fire Marshal, Riggs can be hard to pin down. “My work truly varies from day to day. On a Saturday, I could be at a collegiate football stadium for a K-9 security detail. On a Monday, I could be serving on the Fire Marshal’s Honor Guard at a funeral. And, on a Wednesday, I could be investigating two arsons three counties apart, writing a report and going to court.”
Riggs says a lot of people aren’t aware of all her job entails. “I think most people’s idea of handling an explosives detection K-9 is limited to the occasional school bomb threat; but in reality, Ringo serves as the security detail for many special events.”
Riggs’s and Ringo’s duties have taken them to many places and allowed them to provide security for many people, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Donald Trump, Jr.
She recalled one year while doing a security sweep at Mistletoe Marketplace when a masked man approached Ringo and attempted to pet him, which is not allowed when he is on duty. Riggs recalled that she pulled Ringo away and admonished the man. The masked man apologized and it was then that Riggs realized it was Tim Tebow. Laughing she said, “I blamed not recognizing him on the masks. But if I had thought about it, his hair was a dead giveaway.”
Of course, not all of Riggs’ experiences on the job are that pleasant. “Without a doubt, the single most impactful moment of my career thus far was investigating a fire that occurred in Hinds County that resulted in the deaths of six children and their mother,” she said.
While that was emotionally devastating, she said, “It influenced my perspective on the significance of my job as it pertains to educating others on the importance of fire safety and to bringing the necessary closure to victims and their families.”
As for what makes a good fire investigator, Riggs said the necessary qualities are a superb attention to detail, an excellent communication skillset, and “an acceptance of the fact that you’ll always be filthy after a hard-day’s work.” Even if you’re a girl.