Santa Clara County Fire Department gets first female chief

Santa Clara County Fire Department is welcoming its first female chief in its 75-year history after the Board of Supervisors appointed Suwanna L. Kerdkaew to the top role on Tuesday.

Kerdkaew is also the first female to head a fire department within the entire county.

A biology graduate from San Francisco State University, Kerdkaew joined the county fire department in 2002. She’s served in a variety of roles, including firefighter, engineer, paramedic, battalion chief and deputy chief and most recently was acting assistant chief. According to the fire department, Kerdkaew has been deployed to major wildfires around the state, including the SCU Lightning Complex fires in 2020 that affected five different counties and burned close to 400,000 acres of land.

“I think she’s going to bring an element of humanity into the fire service at a time when we really need it,” said Angela Graham, a hazmat specialist who has served the county fire department since 2006. “She’s always been a person of a calm demeanor. Very caring. Very personable. I think in today’s environment, those are crucial skills.”

Kerdkaew was not immediately available for an interview.

Kerdkaew’s appointment comes as the county grapples with questions about the dearth of female firefighters among its ranks. In December 2020, a county civil grand jury report blamed the lack of female representation within the county fire department as well as in neighboring Bay Area cities on poor recruiting methods, lack of inclusivity and gender bias. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 4% of firefighters in the United States are women.

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