After 23 years of service, Gil Dong was appointed chief of Berkeley Fire Department at Tuesday’s city council meeting, also becoming the first Asian-American fire chief in the continental U.S.
Dong has served as interim fire chief since last December, after the retirement of previous chief, Debra Pryor. Since joining as a paramedic in 1990, Dong has worked in every division of the fire department.
“The work doesn’t change, but the title does,” Dong said.
Acting deputy fire chief Avery Webb said Dong has been an efficient administrator since the day he stepped in as interim, immediately taking action with a strategic plan to address the strengths and weaknesses of the department.
Though Dong said he felt honored to be the first Asian-American fire chief in the continental U.S., he also said he felt torn that it took such a long time to recruit an Asian fire chief in the mainland.
“I think it’s reflective of the culture and the problem we have recruiting Asian-American firefighters,” Dong said. “Asian parents want you to become doctors, lawyers, engineers. We need to break through some of those barriers and show that being a firefighter is just as honorable.”
According to Dong, there needs to be more aggressive recruiting of minorities and Asian Americans into the fire service. Diversity outreach is also a priority on the strategic plan to demonstrate that fire service is a viable career for minorities as well.