Sunday marked the last day of Joanne Hayes-White's tenure as chief of the San Francisco Fire Department, a position she's held since 2004 in a department she's served in for 29 years.
The retiring chief was celebrated at a 700-person banquet at the Irish Cultural Center on Sunday, as ABC 7 reports.
Hayes-White announced her retirement in October, and in mid-March we learned that she would be replaced, beginning today, by SF's first openly gay fire chief, Jeanine Nicholson, a 25-year veteran of the SFFD.
She chose Sunday's date, May 5, as a "small tribute" to late Mayor Ed Lee, whose birthday was yesterday. He would have turned 67. As the Chronicle reported at the time, Hayes-White felt especially close to Lee, saying, "I loved working for Mayor Lee. He was not only someone I had great admiration and respect for, but he became a friend. His ordinariness made him extraordinary, and I just loved every part of him."
And as the Chronicle noted, when Lee was working as a lawyer for the Asian Law Caucus, he was part of the team that sued the city in 1984 over discrimination in hiring at the SFFD. The suit led to the first women being hired in the department in 1987.
Hayes-White, a San Francisco native, joined the SFFD in 1990, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in 1993. In 1996, she became a captain, and in 1998 she was promoted to the role of assistant deputy chief. Mayor Gavin Newsom named her department chief in January 2004. San Francisco immediately became the largest urban fire department in the world with a female chief, overseeing a 1500-member force with an operating budget of $350 million. Until Sunday, she was the longest-serving big-city fire chief in the country.
Bring out the bag pipes! After 15 years as Chief, Joanne Hayes-White is retiring from the San Francisco Fire Department. More than 700 people are here celebrating the Chief on her last night with the department @SFFDPIO pic.twitter.com/zvz1cVtSlO— Kate Larsen (@KateABC7) May 6, 2019
Though Hayes-White denies this is the case, there is some reason to believe that her decision to retire at the beginning of London Breed's tenure as mayor may be no accident. The two had a disagreement back in 2014 relating to the Fire Department's speed of response with its ambulances, and Breed wrote an opinion piece suggesting that it was time for Hayes-White to step down.
But Hayes-White also told the Chronicle that the decision also had a lot to do with Lee's sudden death, and how it made her re-evaluate her priorities after a lengthy career with the department. "I kind of reset after he passed away," she told the paper. "That was tough."
Hayes-White serves on the board of the St. Anne’s Little Sisters of the Poor and she's an honorary board member of the American Red Cross - Bay Area Chapter.