A Call for More Asian Firefighters

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By Norm Caba

Very few Asian firefighters I’ve met have “wanted” to be one since they were kids.  My story is similar.  In college, I knew I did NOT want to be a firefighter.  I was an academic.  I worked as an EMT, eventually becoming a paramedic on a 911 ambulance, where I saw many different things.  The worst calls were burn injuries reinforcing my desire to NOT want to be a firefighter.

In fact, my brother became a firefighter when I was a medic so I heard all of his stories.  He had always tried to convince me to be a firefighter but my focus was still more on academics and I was looking into other careers.

One night out with friends, a buddy I knew since high school was telling me how he wasn’t doing well in college and might drop out. My brother was there, still trying to convince me of the fire service.  My friend was a high school athlete and still in great shape.  I thought he would be the perfect firefighter. So I tried to convince him to apply but he was not agreeable to the idea.  The only way to convince him was to tell him, “I’ll take the test with you.”  So I did.  My friend stayed in college and continued on to get his graduate degree.  I got in.

Even  in the fire academy, I wasn’t sold on public safety.  I was going to use it as a job to go back to school and finish my graduate degree.  It wasn’t until I started working in the firehouse, experiencing the camaraderie, battling my first fire, and living the life of a firefighter that I fell in love with the job.  I chose to make firefighting my career and have never looked back.

The job is amazing.  It’s different every day.  We see people in the worst situations and it’s our job to make it better. It’s happy, sad and exciting all at the same time.

As an Asian American, I see the impact of diversity in the fire service –  how speaking the language of the people we serve brings ease to their plight.  The simple understanding of a culture can help rescuers bring comfort and empathy to a situation. Having kids grow up seeing a fire service reflective of the whole community is what breaks stereotypes, builds dreams and makes us a community.

Asians make up 17% of the SFFD workforce compared to 33% of the San Francisco population. Traditionally, Asians don’t steer their children toward the trades, much less a career in firefighting.  Many Asian parents speak to others so proudly about how their children are going to become  doctors, lawyers, or engineers.

The Asian Firefighters Association would like people to know that the SFFD will be accepting applications for the position of firefighter next week.  We hope that you or someone you know would consider becoming a firefighter.

Applications will be given out on three days only, June 9th, 10th, and 11th.  They can be picked up at 1 South Van Ness Avenue, 4th Floor, from 8:30am to 4:30pm each day.

Completed applications must be hand-delivered to 1740 Cesar Chavez on June 12th or 13th between 8:30am and 4:30pm.

1. High school diploma or equivalent at application.
2. Emergency Medical Technician certification prior to being hired.
3. Successful completion of fire academy after being hired.

1. Minimum of 19 years of age at application.
2. Minimum of 20 years of age at hire date.
3. A valid California Driver License at hire date.
4. Successful completion of the Candidate Physical Ability Test prior to hire date.

Norm Caba is a San Francisco native, a firefighter, and the president of the Asian Firefighters Association.

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