By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Preston Bhang is a pioneer in the city of Seattle. He was the first Korean American firefighter for the Seattle Fire Department. Bhang retired two years ago but still promotes the job he served for over 4 decades and encourages Asian Pacific Islanders to take advantage of the current application period to become a Seattle Firefighter.
Bhang grew up in South Central Los Angeles and served as a firefighter in Gardena, CA.. “I chose to be a firefighter because it was a way to give back to the community,” Bhang said. “I could never sit behind a desk or make ‘widgets.’”
“Every day is different. It’s hand’s on,” explained Bhang of the reason he enjoyed being a firefighter.
Although the public recognizes firefighters as putting out fires, Bhang indicated that 85 percent of the time the calls fire fighters receive are related to emergency medical relief, only 15 percent are related to fires.
“Seattle is easily a top three fire department in the country,” said Bhang. He bases his opinion on a variety of factors including equipment and material that the Seattle Fire Department utilizes. “The Seattle resuscitation rate is double than that across the country.” He also stated that the department has great inclusiveness and leadership.
“It’s an interesting hiring period,” Bhang added, “There are a lot of retirements happening now and projected over the next couple years.” Bhang cited the fact that the union leader for the fire department indicates that 200 people could retire in the next five years. Thus, a lot of jobs could be opening up in the near future.
“There are a lot of API candidates from out of state, such as California and Hawaii,” said Bhang of the candidates that take advantage of the open hiring period. Even with the influx of out-of-state candidates, the fire department is behind in community representation from Asian Pacific Islanders.
“API young people are always underrepresented for various reasons,” explained Bhang of the disparity in applications from Asian Pacific Islanders. “My generation of API kids were all headed to dentistry school, medical school, or law school. White collar type of jobs.” Bhang indicated that he once wanted to go into medicine but decided against it. Prior to being a firefighter, Bhang went to art school as he had three uncles in graphic design. However, he did not find it satisfying.
He explained the importance of the need for API representation in the fire department. “When we walk through someone’s door to help out, it benefits the patient and the patient’s family to see someone like them,” Bhang said. He was the first Korean American firefighter in Seattle when he joined in 1982. He recalls when the fire department would conduct fire safety checks for businesses and that oftentimes he would walk into a Korean business and greet them in Korean. “It was a real sign of respect,” said Bhang, as he found it a way to connect to the business owner that they were there to keep the business safe. “It was always good to have somebody come in that looks like them.”
The application process includes an online application and a civil service exam which includes one written and two oral board exams. According to Dori Towler of the Seattle Fire Department, it anticipates on hiring 120 firefighters from a list of the top 25 percent of those taking the civil service exam.
The uniformed workforce includes 7 percent Asian/Asian Pacific Island employees which is 68 of the 966 Seattle Fire Department work force. “Other than women, this is our most underrepresented demographic,” wrote Towler in an email.
In its last application period, the Seattle Fire Department received 6.3 percent, or 371 of 5,839 Asian/Asian Pacific Island applicants. So far, Towler indicates a slight uptick in Asian/Asian Pacific Island candidates for the upcoming application period. (end)
For more information on the application process, visit http://www.seattle.gov/firejobs.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.