A holiday card created by Alameda County firefighters depicting people in tradition Chinese attire created a fire storm of criticism from local leaders, activists, and elected officials last week, but the incident also underscores a woeful lack of diversity within the Alameda County Fire Department.
In a statement last week, Assemblymemer Rob Bonta, asserted 77 percent of the fire department’s personnel is Caucasian. In addition, of the remaining 23 percent, no other group exceeds 10 percent.
At an appearance before the San Leandro City Council last week, Alameda County Fire Chief David Rocha refuted some of the assemblymember’s statistics, but acknowledged the department is constantly working on greater diversity within in its ranks.
Rocha said he believes roughly 7 percent of the fire department is of Asian American heritage. He estimates around 15 percent is Latino.
San Leandro Councilmember Benny Lee, the city’s first-ever Asian American elected official, said of the cards, “We’re a city that does not tolerate any hate speech or any demeaning of any ethnic backgrounds.”
Lee also warned the incident involving Alameda County firefighters, which occurred at a firehouse located in San Leandro, cannot be tolerated.
While referencing the Holocaust, Lee said, “I remember a radio host from the 1930s, who basically made fun of people because of their noses. His name was Adolf Hitler.”
In addition, Lee later referenced the horrific results of the Belgian occupation of Rwanda, adding, “It started with making fun. It started with calling people cockroaches and it ended up in the Rwandan genocide of 800,000 people being killed in 40 days.”
Aside from a lack of ethnic diversity, the Alameda County Fire Department also struggles with bringing more women firefighters into the fold. Although, higher than the national average, said Rocha, women make up about 5-6 percent of their workforce.