CHICAGO (WLS) -- Richard Ford's appointment to commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department means that two African Americans lead the nation's second largest fire department for the first time in history.
Growing up in the Chatham neighborhood he had many Chicago police officers in his family, but Ford wanted to change the image of firefighters.
"I really didn't see any African American firefighters, saw a lot of police," Ford said. "It was rough those first couple of years, dad was not happy I was on the fire department... I wanted to do something a little different."
Appointed in September by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Ford became the third African American Chicago Fire Commissioner, and with the promotion of First Deputy Annette Nance-Holt, it is the first time that the top two spots at CFD are held by African Americans.
"We're making progress and we are working together to get things done well," Ford said.
CFD is the second largest fire department in the country. And in this diverse city, the commissioner wants to see more of that diversity reflected in the department.
"Often time we don't talk about race but when we can be honest and calm a good conversation can take place," Ford said.
In his three-decades-long career, Ford has had many saves including his own son, who was 5 years old at the time. It happened at the dinner table after a training session.
"My son started choking and I used that maneuver to get it out," said Ford. "So, this is a beautiful career and we need to push our kids to get in EMS, fire it's a beautiful thing. Very rewarding," said Commissioner Ford.
Currently 17 percent of all of the CFD's employees are African American, but Commissioner Ford has plans for recruitment and promotions to increase that percentage so more Chicago kids can see themselves in the faces of Chicago firefighters.
2 African Americans leading Chicago Fire Department for first time in history
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