“Honoring the Celtic Woman” is the theme of 2013 Irish heritage celebrations in The City, making San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White the perfect grand marshal for the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday.
“I’m very proud of my Irish heritage,” says Hayes-White, who was born and raised in San Francisco. Her maternal grandparents are from Ireland, and her father emigrated from the Emerald Isle in 1949.
“We were raised to love everything Irish. My parents instilled in us a pride in our heritage. The Irish culture has left a real strong footprint on The City, and The City has provided for many people, including my father, to live out the American dream,” says the chief, in her ninth year in the post. She has been in the department for 23 years.
With 1,500 firefighters on staff, the SFFD is the largest fire department in the world under female direction.
“Growing up I was really fascinated by fire trucks,” says Hayes-White. “But it wasn’t really a career option then. There weren’t any female role models.”
She went to college at Santa Clara University, got a degree in business, and worked in human resources for a few years until she heard the SFFD was diversifying, and hiring more women.
“I played a lot of team sports growing up and liked the physical aspects of being in a team,” says Hayes-White. “When I came in there were about 10 women. Now we have over 250 women in uniform. We’re in the top 3 to 5 departments in the nation for cultural and gender diversity.”
She adds, “It’s just a real honor and privilege to continue the service as chief. I came in because I like the idea of public service, and the physical component. I actually miss the regular calls I used to go on, but I try to go out in the field as much as possible.”
Technically, Hayes-White will be on call during Saturday’s parade, which begins at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Market and Second streets.
Organized by the United Irish Societies of San Francisco, the 162th year of Irish celebrations also includes a post-parade festival in Civic Center Plaza, as well as other musical and cultural events throughout the month and into April.
IF YOU GO
St. Patrick’s Day Festival
Where: Civic Center Plaza, between Grove, Polk, Larkin and McAllister streets, S.F.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday
Note: The parade begins at 11:30 a.m. at Second and Market streets, does down Market, and ends at Civic Center.