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Q&A with Joanne Hayes-White, 2018 Career Fire Chief of the Year

Joanne Hayes-White is chief of the San Francisco (California) Fire Department. She was honored during Fire-Rescue International in Dallas as the 2018 Career Fire Chief of the Year. Here’s what she told On Scene about the path to this high honor.


Chief Hayes-WhiteIAFC: What does it mean to you to be honored as 2018 Fire Chief of the Year?

Hayes-White: Being nominated and selected by my peers as the IAFC Career Fire Chief of the Year is the highest professional acknowledgement I have received. It is quite an honor. I feel very blessed and grateful.

IAFC: What is the one accomplishment you are most proud of?

Hayes-White: I am most proud of the diversity of the San Francisco Fire Department; we are one of the most diverse fire departments in the world, with a workforce that truly reflects the community we serve. I have had the privilege of hiring 1,300 of our 1,800 members and know our department is in capable hands and will be in the future.

IAFC: What has the reaction been from your department and community about being named Fire Chief of the Year?

Hayes-White: I have been truly humbled by the positive response from members of the San Francisco Fire Department, San Francisco residents and my peers within the fire service. 

IAFC: Who has been the most influential person inside or outside the fire service on your success? Why?

Hayes-White: I have been fortunate to have a number of role models throughout my career. By far, the two most influential people in my life have been my parents, Thomas and Patricia Hayes. They instilled values including honesty, integrity, strong work ethic, compassion and respectfulness. Their support has been unwavering.

IAFC: When was your most difficult time or challenge in the fire service and how did you overcome it?

Hayes-White: The most challenging/difficult time for me was the line of duty deaths of Lieutenant Vincent Perez and Firefighter/Paramedic Anthony Valerio as a result of a residential structure fire on June 2, 2011. As chief of department, in addition to fulfilling our mission of protecting lives and property, my main objective is to keep our workforce healthy and safe. The loss of Vince and Tony is something that has stayed with me since their passing. They made the ultimate sacrifice and their bravery and service will never be forgotten. As a result of their deaths, NFPA 1802, Two-Way, Portable RF Voice Communications Devices for Use by Emergency Services Personnel in the Hazard Zone, is a new standard. It is my hope that this standard will reduce the risk of firefighter injuries and fatalities.

IAFC: What advice would you offer new or emerging leaders in the fire service?

Hayes-White: Some words of wisdom:

  • Be consistent and lead by example.
  • Remain optimistic.
  • Never compromise your principles.
  • Never let others discourage your goals/dreams.
  • Family comes first. I am proud of my accomplishments as chief of the San Francisco Fire Department, but even more proud of being Mom to three wonderful sons, Riley, Logan and Sean.


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