Newsom Names Female Fire Chief

Newsom Names Female Fire Chief

Announcement Date: January 11, 2004

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made his first high-profile appointment a historic one Saturday, selecting Assistant Deputy Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White to head the Fire Department, the first time a woman has been picked to lead a major city’s fire department in the country.
Newsom praised Hayes-White, a 14-year veteran and San Francisco native, but downplayed the significance of her gender, saying he selected the best candidate for the job. But he also recognized that the selection represented a dramatic turnaround for a department that was the last big-city fire agency to hire a female firefighter.
“It sends a message to little girls and women that there are no boundaries. You can do whatever you like,” said Hayes-White, who claims to remember the names and faces of 90 percent of the department. “I think it’s fitting it happened in San Francisco, which is on the cutting edge.”
It wasn’t always so. A coalition of attorneys sued the city in 1984 to increase diversity at the Fire Department, and in 1988, the city agreed to a court-ordered consent decree requiring it to diversify its Fire Department.
The department of 1,500 firefighters is now one of the most diverse in the country, with more than 16% women among its ranks and 51% of the force members of a protected class.
Appointed at the age of 39, Hayes-White is also believed to be one of the youngest Fire Chiefs in the City’s history. She entered the Department in 1990, when there were still fewer than 10 other female Firefighters in the Department. She quickly moved through the ranks, to the rank of Captain in 1996 and an Assistant Deputy Chief in the Division of Support Services two years later. For the four years prior to her appointment as Chief of Department, she served as the Director of Training, overseeing the development of hundreds of new Firefighters.