Austin Fire Department swears in first African-American chief

The city of Austin welcomed its first African-American fire chief on Monday.

“Joel Baker comes from the city of Atlanta with decades of experience that he will be bringing to our wonderful city,” said Spencer Cronk, Austin city manager.

Monday was Joel Baker's first day as chief of the Austin Fire Department. He began his career in East Point, Georgia in 1986. Two years later, he joined the Atlanta Fire-Rescue Department. He moved up the ranks, becoming the chief, a position he held until retiring in February. Then he was offered the job in Austin.

“Some of the things that took place in Atlanta is going on here with the growth of the city. Atlanta is growing rapidly. So this is a perfect fit. It really is a perfect fit for me to be here,” said Baker.

Baker's badge was pinned by Ret. Lt. Marvin Douglas, who was hired in 1953, just one year after the first three African-Americans were hired. It was a pivotal moment in welcoming Austin's first African-American fire chief.

“Public safety is where you give back to the community. Since I gave back to the country as a Marine, I wanted to continue that part of my service and my life,” said Baker.

Some of Baker's top priorities are making sure there are enough fire stations in the right parts of town, improving response times and recruiting the best talent, including minorities. 

“When you want to recruit African-Americans, you send African-Americans. When you want to recruit women, you send women. When you want to recruit members of the LGBT community, you send those members,” said Baker.

It may be a tall order, but worth it, for the 6'6 chief. He promises not to let Austinites down.