SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - When a high-rise apartment building caught fire in San Francisco Monday evening, SFFD Chief Joanne Hayes-White hurried to the scene.
She was fresh off an afternoon of retirement buzz: interviews, calls and emails as she revealed her intention to hang up her helmet.
"Kind of ironic that we get a third alarm today," said Hayes-White as the fire subsided, "but I'm sure between now and the time I retire, I'll get to a few more fires."
Hayes-White is the only woman to ever lead San Francisco Fire and the longest serving chief of any big city department in the nation.
"I love this picture over here, with Mayor Newsom and my sons, that was my first day, when I was sworn in," she said, giving KTVU a look inside her office, full of mementos from her long tenure.
"Now Riley is 25, Logan is 21, and Sean is 19, so in my children, I see how much time has passed," said Hayes-White, comparing two photos of her boys, 14 years apart. "Sometimes it seems like yesterday, but my sons are grown men now."
Hayes-White was appointed by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom in 2004.
Monday as word spread she would retire this spring, she texted the Lieutenant Governor. "I thanked him for the opportunity," Hayes-White said, "because I worked very hard, but I was 39 when he chose me, with 14 years on the job, and it was a very bold move for him."
Another photograph on her wall shows Hayes-White with two other trailblazers that same year: Kamala Harris, elected SF District Attorney and Heather Fong, who Newsom appointed Police Chief.
"We have a lot of firefighters who speak other languages, and we reflect the community we're serving," Hayes-White told KTVU, noting that she ushered in reforms that made the department more diverse and professional.
"It's really important in a city like San Francisco, so I'm really proud of that."
Hayes-White was among the first dozen women hired by the department; it is 15% female now, while most large cities are still in single digits.
Ironically, it was the late Mayor Ed Lee, as a young attorney, who won the court order integrating the department in the late 80's.
Hayes-White was among the first dozen women hired by the department. "I loved Ed Lee, just loved Ed Lee," Hayes-White told KTVU, noting that she intended to keep a promise to him and stay through his second term. As Mayor, Lee was her boss, her supporter, her friend.
"He was so ordinary it made him extraordinary, because it literally made him the guy next door, and I miss him every day."
Lee's unexpected death last winter caused Hayes-White to reevaluate her plans.
She has chosen May 5, Lee's birthday as her retirement date, in tribute to him. Asked about the lowest moments of her career, she names Lee's death, and the 2011 deaths of two SF firefighters in a house fire in Diamond Heights.
The highest points? Having her parents see her sworn in as Chief.
She looks forward to spending more time with her 93-year-old mother, who lives next-door to her.
"It's retirement, not resignation," insists Hayes-White, rejecting any notion she was pressured to leave by new Mayor London Breed.
"None, no pressure at all, and she's got me for another six months on the books," said Hayes-White, "and even when I retire I'm just a phone call away."
Hayes-White also downplayed rumors that she might run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, saying she had "no plans" to do so.
As for the swirl of emotions at Fire Headquarters as she made her announcement?
"A few people here were a little sad, and I'll probably get there when it's gets closer to the actual day," she admitted, "but for me, I'm really excited and very grateful."
And just as she mused about the prospect of not being so reliant on her cell phone, the call came for the 3 alarm fire on Davis Street.
As she has so many times, Chief Hayes-White in full turn-out gear, mingled among her crews, getting updates on the fire and evacuations.
"That's the excitement part of the job, and that's why I'll miss it," she told KTVU, because you never know what the day is going to bring."