Father and son reflect on making history with Fresno Fire Department

FRESNO, Calif. -- For retired Fresno Fire Cpt. David Woodard Sr., putting service above self comes naturally.

"It was a great career," he said. "I learned a lot, so I like to see other people come into the industry. It's an easy thing to give back to the community."

Originally from Texas, Woodard Sr. moved to Fresno at 10 years old. It was while playing college football he saw a job opening at the Fresno Fire Department and reached out to a family friend with the department. Their conversation would spark a career.

"Jim White and his brother, Floyd White, were the first African Americans on this job," Woodard Sr. said. "They said, Dave, what little we know about you, we think you'd do a good job and 37 years later, I made it."

Woodard spent decades training new recruits and inspiring Fresno's youth, including his son, David Jr.

"It's humbling for me to have my son do what I did," he said.

David Jr. spent seven years in the Army, where he became a communications staff sergeant.

Tapped to go to West Point, the now Fresno Fire engineer chose to follow in his father's footsteps.

"Every day, I put my best foot forward," David Jr. said. "I want to leave things better than I found them. These are all things my father taught me. It's just an honor to actually have gotten to work with him as well."

Making them the first and only African American father and son to work together at the department.

Per protocol, they couldn't work side by side. However, between the two, they've fought more than 3,000 fires in the City of Fresno.

David Jr. might not be the last Woodard to join the ranks.

On top of inspiring the next generation of Woodard firefighters, both are active in recruitment, hoping to see the diversity of the department reflect the community.

"When someone walks into their home on their worst day, it's a relief to see someone that looks like you," David Jr. said. "If you're a giving person, if you're a compassionate person and you care about others, you're selfless, those are all the core values of what it takes to be a firefighter. The other stuff, fighting the fire, that stuff's easy."

In addition to volunteering at COVID 19 vaccination sites, Woodard Sr. says he continues the recruitment process to ensure his fire family grows even stronger.

"You spend 1/3 of your life with the ladies and gentlemen on this job, you have to trust each other," he said. "You put your life in their hands, their lives in your hands."
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