During his 27-year tenure with the Minneapolis fire service, Alex Jackson has quietly made his way through the ranks, taking on several different leadership positions.
On Friday, Jackson raised his right hand and accepted his new job as Minneapolis fire chief during a ceremony at City Hall. He becomes the first African American fire chief in the city's history.
Outside the fire service, Jackson has perhaps received more attention as a stand-up comedian. His wit was evident as he recalled being asked recently by a reporter how it felt to be the city's first black fire chief.
"And I was like, well, kind of like how it felt to be the first black assistant fire chief," he said. "I've just got more on my plate."
Jackson did get serious -- briefly -- when he described the fire department's historical lack of diversity. He said between 1888 and 1912 the department only hired four black firefighters. Jackson says the fire service had no black firefighters between 1912 and 1972.
"Twenty-seven years ago, the city hires me. And at that time, I am a lean, mean, 130-pound fire fighting machine," Jackson said. "And I'm going to be honest with you -- because my family is here -- 30 pounds of it was an Afro."
Jackson also acknowledged the firefighters before him who made it possible for him to make it to the top of the department. He offered a special thanks to former Fire Chief Rocco Forte.
Jackson credited Forte with following through on commitments the department had made to diversify the fire service. Forte has watched Jackson's performance over the years and says he's the right person for the job.
"Obviously, I'm extremely happy about it. We worked together for years, and he was on my staff and he took every opportunity to build his skills, to go to the national fire academy, and to put himself in the position where he could be a chief someday," Forte said. "I'm very happy for him and happy for the department."
Jackson replaces Chief Jim Clack who left earlier this year to lead the Baltimore Fire Department. His appointment expires in January of 2010.