2 firsts in 1 for county fire job

Times Staff Writer

As Helen Jo worked her way to the front of the room to receive her new badge last week, a stream of colleagues, family and friends crowded and cheered around the freshly promoted deputy chief -- the first woman and the first Asian American to achieve such a rank in the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Jo, who assumed her new position in April, joined the Fire Department in 1998 as a budget officer and became chief of the financial management division in 2002. During her tenure in that division, the department’s budget grew from $500 million to more than $910 million, she said.

“I’m very proud and honored to have this opportunity,” Jo said at a promotional ceremony held at the Cerritos Public Library for more than 20 department members. “Being a woman and a minority . . . there’s definitely a lot of challenges. The organization as a whole is predominantly male.”

Jo, 42, now one of the department’s seven deputy chiefs, says she hopes to be a role model for young people and minorities. Rising through the ranks in the county’s Auditor-Controller Department and then the Fire Department, she said she had few women or Asian Americans to look up to.


“I had to kind of forge [my path] on my own,” she said. “Dedication and hard work really pays off.”

As deputy chief of the Support Services Bureau, Jo oversees what fire officials say are among the busiest divisions: fire fleet services, materials management, and construction and maintenance. Her responsibilities include the development and maintenance of fire stations, equipment and vehicles and the procurement of supplies and services.

Jo emigrated with her family from Korea to Los Angeles when she was 4 1/2. She grew up in Koreatown and joined the county’s Auditor-Controller Department 20 years ago after studying finance and accounting at USC. She said that despite the obstacles facing female and minority workers, she has always been confident in her abilities and performance.

“I didn’t have to flash the female card or the minority card to get where I’m at,” she said. “I really appreciate the fact that it doesn’t matter who you are or what skin color you have; I think perseverance, hard work and dedication pays off.”