FREMONT, Calif. - Fremont has made history after appointing its first woman and woman of color as fire chief. Zoraida Diaz, who's Afro-Latina, started the position last month after serving nearly two decades in the Oakland Fire Department.
Only about 6% of fire chiefs are women across the country. Diaz says when she started out it was never her goal to become a Fire Chief, but her passion for helping people led her to her purpose in fire service.
"This is my dad. I have to acknowledge him because my dad, when I was going through the academy, he was with me for six and a half months. He would prepare meals for me to make sure that I was healthy the whole time that I was in the academy," said Diaz.
It’s been 19 years since Zoraida Diaz joined Oakland’s Fire Dept. On April 28th, she was publicly recognized as Chief of the Fremont Fire Dept. becoming its first woman and Afro-Latina to serve as Chief.
"For me, I’ve always been driven. So, no one is going to stop me from being successful, is how I looked at it. Really, I was able to get the respect because I had the credibility of working every position but also who I was when I started in the academy, is who I’ve always been," Diaz said.
Fifty-five-year-old Diaz was born and raised in Harlem, NY with her siblings to Puerto Rican parents. After earning a master's degree, she worked as a social worker for over a decade and left New York to eventually settle in Hayward. Soon after, a friend from Oakland’s Fire Dept. introduced her to fire service.
"Being a former athlete, I just looked at the teamwork and the camaraderie in that exercise, and I was like wow this looks like something I can do," Diaz said.
Diaz served as Deputy Chief for two years in Fremont before becoming Fire Chief. She now manages over 150 people and plans to hire a 14th company or fire crew, to expand the Dept.
"We’re all engaged in doing research or identifying best practices on how we can better serve the community of Fremont," Diaz said.
After nearly two decades of service, Diaz says she’ll retire in three to four years to spend time with her family and travel with her fiancée Paula.
"I weighed 115 lbs. I knew nothing about mechanical aptitude. I knew about the fire service. I was a social worker for 15 years, and I was 36-years old. So, I say to anyone who’s interested in pursuing a career in the fire service, that if I can do it, so can you," Diaz said.
Right now, there are six women serving as firefighters here in Fremont. Diaz says she also plans to hire three Division Chiefs and a Fire Marshall in the next 18 months.