Longtime San Francisco Fire Chief, Joanne Hayes-White, retires

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco's longtime fire chief, Joanne Hayes-White, hung up her helmet for good Sunday night.

After 29 years with the San Francisco Fire Department, Chief Hayes-White is retiring as a new chief is sworn in Monday.

Ushered in by bagpipes, Hayes-White spent her last hours with the fire department with family and 700 friends and colleagues at the Irish Cultural Center.

"It's still an adjustment. I look at my phone all the time to think if I've missed a call," said Chief Hayes-White, who is still adjusting to life outside the fire fight.

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Hayes-White is rarely seen out of uniform, but on Sunday, she wore a green jacket and her hair down, instead of in her signature ponytail.

In her new role as "former Chief," she shared some advice for those who will lead in her stead.

"It's important to be fair and to be consistent, to lead by example. You have to develop a thick skin because it's not a popularity contest. Sometimes I've had to make some tough calls, but I stand by them. I really have no regrets."

"We just know her as 'Mom,'" said Riley White, 25, the Chief's oldest of three boys, who explained how proud he is of his mom.

"You know, career day, we'd have something really cool to have our mom come in and talk. She was appointed chief in 2004, so for the past 15 years, it's been not only just the fire department, but as the chief of the department, which has been pretty amazing to see all the different things that she's in charge of and kind of the enormity of the position and how she's been able to handle it extremely well, while still taking care of us."

White added about his mom, "love her big time."

From first female chief to first openly gay chief, at midnight Chief Hayes-White passes the baton to Chief Jeanine Nicholson, who has been with the San Francisco Fire Department for 25 years.

"The whole thing feels a little surreal and yet very real," said Chief Jeanine Nicholson laughing.

Nicholson says she admires Hayes-White.

"It was groundbreaking when she became our chief and that she stayed for 15 years, is also pretty groundbreaking, so I have some shoes to fill and I'm really looking forward to my new role," she said.

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Mayor London Breed and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown showed up to celebrate Hayes-White, who says she will always remain in San Francisco.

Chief Jeanine Nicholson will be sworn in Monday.

Hayes-White's retirement party was paid for by friends of the Chief and Guardians of the City. No tax payer dollars were spent.
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