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Earl Gage Jr.
Born Beaumont, Texas, United States
Died July 30, 2017(2017-07-30)
Elk Grove, California, United States
Nationality American
Citizenship United States
Education San Francisco City College
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Occupation Firefighter
Known for First Black firefighter in San Francisco, California
Spouse(s) Blondell Wright
Children 1
Notes

Earl Gage Jr. (c. 1927 – died July 30, 2017) was an American firefighter. He was the first Black firefighter in San Francisco, California in the United States. He served as the only Black firefighter for 12 years. During his 28 year career, Gage promoted efforts to increase racial diversity.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early life[edit | edit source]

Gage was born around 1927 in Beaumont, Texas.[2] In 1945, Gage's family moved from Texas to San Francisco. He had one sister and one brother.[1] Gage graduated from San Francisco City College and the University of California, Berkeley, with a pre-med focus.[1][2] He was drafted into the United States Army.

Career[edit | edit source]

"He was a trailblazer, and paved the way for the SFFD to become one of the most diverse departments in the world, truly representing the city we serve," – Joanne Hayes-White, San Francisco Fire Chief[1]

The San Francisco Fire Department hired Gage in 1955.[3] Gage experienced racism in his career, especially during the twelve years in which he was the only Black firefighter. In the fire station bunks, firefighters soiled his mattress and threw it away. Crews were assigned rotating beds regularly, and some would refuse to sleep on a mattress used prior by Gage. As a result, Gage had his own mattress that he transported himself to the different stations.[3] As early as 1969, Gage began calling for increased diversity in the department.[1]

He experienced so much racism and many threats from the public, resulting in him moving from fighting fires to serving as director of community services.[3] He was the first Black man to hold a departmental command position.[2] During his work a director, which was supported by San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto, he recruited firefighters, including improving the diversity among staff. He hired Robert Demmons, who would become the city's first Black fire chief.[1] He also developed training for entrance exams, loosening requirements to make it easier for recruits to pass the exams after feedback of the tests being too hard.[1][3] Gage also re-launched two programs: field trips for children to visit fire departments and seasonal holiday decorations at firehouses.[2]

Gage retired, after 28 years, in 1983. Despite his retirement, in 1987 he was named in a consent decree to increase diversity, including both racially and by gender, in the fire department.[3] After retirement, Gage became a real estate broker.[1]

Death and legacy[edit | edit source]

In 2014, Blondell Wright died. Gage died on July 30, 2017 in Elk Grove, California. The service was held at the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco.[1]

At Gage's funeral, Sherman Tillman, president of the San Francisco Black Firefighters Association, first proposed the idea of naming a street after Gage. In 2020, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to rename part of Willow Street after Gage.[3]

Personal life[edit | edit source]

In 1952, he married Blondell Wright, whom he converted to Catholicism to wed.[1][4]

References[edit | edit source]

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