Assistant Fire Chief Kwame Cooper (Courtesy Photo)
When Assistant Fire Chief Kwame Cooper joined the Los Angeles City Fire Department 38 years ago, there were less than 80 Blacks out of 3,800 firefighters. Nearly four decades later, and Cooper has played a vital role in creating a more diverse and inclusive population of firefighters in L.A.
Cooper is retiring from the department this year, but for the veteran firefighter, the word ‘retirement’ doesn’t mean that his journey is complete.
“My philosophy is that this is more of a transformation in my life where although I won’t be committed to going to work every day for the fire department, I’m still very blessed and fortunate to play a very active role in leadership,” says Cooper.
Over the years, Cooper has volunteered thousands of hours of service to the community, and has been an instructor for the Los Angeles Fire Department Leadership Academy and the Caribbean Association of Fire Chiefs. Since 1992, he served as an adjunct instructor at the Carl Holmes Executive Development Institute at Dillard University and in 1995, Cooper provided the leadership toward the development of the L.A. City Fire Department’s Human Relations Development Committee, which helped improve the LAFD’s involvement in hiring a more diverse firefighting team.
After numerous awards and honors, and decades of leading and spearheading several programs and initiatives, what stands out to Cooper as his greatest accomplishment is being a part of the historical organization of African American firefighters the L.A. County Stentorians.
“The leadership we were able to provide in the department made it better in the areas of recruitment, upward mobility and increasing the diversity within the ranks of the firefighter,” says Cooper.
That leadership is what Cooper attributes to the growth and improvement he’s seen over the years and according to Cooper, those numbers continue to grow.
“As firefighters and paramedics, we are role models by virtue of what we do,” says Cooper.
“The more diverse our department is with respect to Black firefighters and women firefighters the more people we have out there to show the community that we are here and we are present. When we are able to show young brothers and sisters that are in our same neighborhoods and that are struggling with social dynamics that in spite of that you can still achieve whatever your dream is. That is critically important.”
Besides your typical retirement plans —spending more time with the family and hanging out with grandchildren — Cooper’s plans after retirement don’t involve too much slowing down.
“My number one goal is to finish school,” says Cooper who is currently a candidate in pursuit of a doctorate degree in Organizational Leadership at Grand Canyon University. With his degree, Cooper plans to increase the number of lectures he teaches and teach in more schools.
As his retirement approaches, Cooper reflects on the community’s support.
“My contributions in my life really aren’t about me. It’s really about showing people, particularly Black folks and Brown folks, what’s possible in spite of conditions,” says Mr. Cooper.
Cooper plans to celebrate his new transition with family, friends and colleagues at a retirement dinner May 4. “I will truly miss serving the community, says Cooper. “Being apart of a team of firefighters and paramedics that show up to make it better is truly what I will miss.
“This is a celebration for me to be able to say to everyone thank you for making me possible.”