Woman Named San Francisco Fire Chief

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Mayor Gavin Newsom tapped a veteran woman firefighter to take on one of the nation's most male-dominated job titles: fire chief.

If confirmed by the San Francisco Fire Commission, which is considered probable, Joanne Hayes-White will head an 1,800-person department that didn't hire its first woman firefighter until 1987.

``I think it sends a message to young women, little girls and women in general that there are no boundaries,'' Hayes-White said Saturday at an event to announce her appointment. ``You can do whatever you like.''

Hayes-White, 39, a San Francisco firefighter for 14 years, would replace outgoing fire chief Mario Trevino, who resigned in October but agreed to stay on until Newsom took office.

As of last September, just 16 U.S. fire departments had female chiefs, and none of the agencies was as large as San Francisco's, according to the Web site of Women in the Fire Service, a non-profit group in Madison, Wis. Among the larger female-headed departments were those in Cobb County, Ga.; Tacoma, Wash.; and Little Rock, Ark.

The only California fire agencies headed by a woman were in Davis and Carmel-by-the-Sea.

``This is a historic day in San Francisco and this is a first for the San Francisco Fire Department and I am proud to have the privilege of making this choice,'' said Newsom, who was inaugurated only two days earlier and is, at 36, the city's youngest mayor in more than a century.

Newsom said he selected Hayes-White because of her support among the department's rank and file, familiarity with its stations and budget experience.

Hayes-White has worked in all of the city's 41 fire stations, and has served most recently its assistant deputy chief and director of training.

Irma Herrera, executive director of Equality Rights Advocates, a San Francisco group that sued the department for discriminating against women in its hiring practices, hailed the appointment.

``Breaking into a boys' club has been a difficult, long-term process, but the women persevered,'' Herrera said.

The San Francisco Fire Department was forced to diversify its ranks in 1988 after a U.S. District Court judge ordered the department to hire more women and minorities. Currently, about 230 of the city's 1,800 firefighters are women.

Some female firefighters have voiced complaints about the department's male-dominated culture. In November, Kristin Odlaugh, a four-year veteran, filed a sexual harassment complaint, saying that drinking was common at her fire station and made work difficult.