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Diversity in the Fire Service
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fire photoFrom its typical beginnings as an all-white volunteer brigade, the Oakland Fire Department (OFD) went on to become a reluctant pioneer in hiring practices. Although in the 1920s OFD was one of the first departments in the nation to hire African American firefighters, five decades later it was charged with discriminatory hiring practices against black candidates. In the early '90s women joined the ranks of its critics. Today, after a federal mandate, lawsuits and tumultuous transitions, the department is a reflection of its community - one of the most culturally diverse in the nation.

Discover the fascinating evolution of the Oakland Fire Department as we take you back through time.

Watch and listen to the video by using RealPlayer.

1869 1869

Like other urban fire departments across the country, OFD was established by volunteers - white men, mostly from blue collar trades such as construction, electrical, mechanical and dock work. Later, many firefighters were men who had served in wars, and transitioned easily into the paramilitary culture of firefighting.

1920s 1920s

By the 1920s, Oakland began hiring black firefighters to serve the African American community from two segregated stations. As the black population in Oakland grew, so did the number of black firefighters on staff. The accommodations for black recruits, however, did not follow suit. At the time, white stations housed a maximum of 10 men per shift. Each of the two black-designated fire stations served as shelter for 25.


Golden Video 1


At the end of World War II, a new group of black firefighters were brought into the department, but not much had changed. Retired chief Samuel Golden recalls the conditions when he was hired as a firefighter on June 1, 1949.

Samuel Golden eventually rose through the ranks to become the first African American chief of the Oakland Fire Department. Fighting flames was not the only battle he had to endure along the way.


Golden Video 2


Chief John Sweeney was appointed to the department on the first day of June, 1955. With that appointment, the Oakland fire service would never be the same. Two months later, Chief Sweeney ordered the integration of all fire stations throughout the city. Once again, Oakland was on a charter course in the nation, becoming among the first in the country to desegregate.


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