Keith Baraka, San Francisco Firefighter

Keith Baraka, San Francisco Firefighter

As a 17 year veteran of the San Francisco Fire Department, often times I get asked “How manyLGBT members are there in the San Francisco Fire Department?”  The answer is unknown, the Fire Department does not collect such data at this time.  I could speculate but the short answer is: remarkably not enough.  Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, by her own admission says that she could “count on both hands” the number of gay men that are both in the field and at Department Headquarters.  The SFFD currently employs approximately 900 firefighters that operate in the field for emergency medical and fire-suppression activities; with another approximately 500 members working in various administrative positions that do not include working out of the 43 fire stations located throughout the city.

Working for the Fire Department as an out, gay, man for the last 17 years has been one of the most thrilling and rewarding activities of my life thus far.  I have had the pleasure of working as an EMT on the ambulance, driver and tillerman of the truck, surf rescue firefighter, and I currently serve as apparatus operator for Engine 21, in the Western Addition.  It is truly a labor of love.  However, as some of you know, I have also seen the not so pleasant side of the job, some of which was told in an article written by another Alice Board Member, Joel Engardio for the SF Examiner, the story can be found here.

The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club has asked Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, in writing and in a face-to-face meeting to consider improving the Department’s numbers as they pertain to the LGBT community.  One of the things that came out of these discussions was the appointment of Alice’s very own, beloved and esteemed, Ken Cleaveland, as our newest Fire Commissioner.  This was an important accomplishment and we thank Mayor Lee for appointing Ken to the Commission.  However, our work is not done.   It is our belief that the SFFD and the residents of San Francisco deserve a Fire Department made of members that reflect the make-up of the city.  This means we need a Department that is made up of members that are at the very least commensurate with our diverse population.  This is woefully not the case, and where you the reader come in.

Please take a moment and read the job announcement for Entry Level (H-2) Firefighter.  A full description of what is needed to apply is listed in the aforementioned link.  Basically speaking, you must be at least 20 years of age by time of appointment, have a high school diploma or equivalency, and have a clean driving and criminal record (please see application announcement for a complete, and more detailed list of requirements).  Based on my personal experience I would add the following:  a willingness to work with folks from all walks of life and background (after all, you’ll be spending 24 hours with them), possess the ability to work in a team oriented environment steeped in tradition, ability to withstand circumstances that are incredibly stress inducing, a commitment to physical fitness, able to function within a paramilitary organization, and a strong desire to serve and protect all citizens, of San Francisco with honor and respect.  This combined with the requirements set forth by the Department will make you an excellent candidate for this extraordinarily rewarding career in the Fire Service.

Important to note, opportunities for entry level positions in the SFFD arise infrequently, the time to act is now!  There is currently no application deadline set for this nationwide candidate search, it is continuous.  In conclusion, it goes without saying that this is a dangerous job with many life hazards.  However, if you feel that you have what it takes, please apply, the LGBT community needs you.  Finally, if you have further questions, feel free to contact me at info@alicebtoklas.org, place my name in the subject line and I will follow-up with you shortly thereafter.  If I cannot address your question, I will certainly help you find the person that can.

Wishing you success,
Keith Baraka

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