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Oakland appoints first woman ever to become city's fire marshal

OAKLAND (KPIX) -- The city of Oakland has a new fire marshal, Felicia Bryant, who is making history as the first woman to ever hold the position.

"I was born and raised in Oakland," she said. 

Bryant is an 18-year veteran of the department and a trailblazer, just like her great-grandfather, Bill Williams. He was one of the first Black firefighters hired by the Oakland Fire Department in 1920. There's even an oral history of Williams at the Oakland Museum archives.

"Growing up, I was always inspired by that story and I was like, it's in my blood," said Bryant.

Bryant started her career as a firefighter working at stations in east Oakland, and driving an engine.

"One of the biggest joys I had when I was on the engine was seeing little girls. It was just a little girl to look up and be like, Wow, she's a woman firefighter she's a girl like me. And I get to give hope to people who don't think it's for them or who may feel like I can't achieve that," said Bryant.

As fire marshal, she is now responsible for fire prevention and life safety, which is why vegetation management is a top priority, especially after the firestorm of 1991.

"Having lived through the hills fire, I was a student here at Bishop O'Dowd High School, and I remember that. It was tragic. It was a very sad time for the city, so I'm trying to make sure we prevent that from happening," said Bryant.

That includes overseeing inspections of more than 25,000 properties every year. So far, 90% of homeowners who have had their properties inspected are in compliance with clearing vegetation and creating defensible space.

"We want the public to know they have a part in it. It's a partnership between the work that they do and the enforcement that we bring," she said.

It's that commitment to community that drives Bryant to leave her mark on the city.

"I love that I get to say I'm a part of that history being made by me being promoted into that position, but it's not about that as much as it is about me making sure that the work that I do and the legacy I leave is that we made Oakland a better place to live and people are happy wanting to live here."

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