‘I just wanted to be a part of the best’: Detroit firefighter breaks barriers

Jackie Lam is already changing the perception of what a Detroit firefighter looks like

A firefighter in Detroit is breaking down barriers.

DETROOIT – Jackie Lam joined the Detroit Fire Department a few years ago because of the department’s reputation of being the best of the best. And without even knowing it, Lam ended up doing a lot more than just fighting fires as she instead paved the way for future generations to follow in her footsteps.

It’s one thing to be a female firefighter. There are not many of them, but what about a female Asian American firefighter? That’s something the DFD hadn’t seen in its 162-year history until Jackie Lam came along.

Lam has been with the Detroit Fire Department for two and a half years, moving from California to start her career.

“So the Detroit Fire Department has a reputation of being one of the best fire departments in the whole world,” said Lam. “So I wanted to be a part of it. Most other departments don’t get to fight as aggressively as the Detroit Fire Department, and I just wanted to be part of the best.”

But to join the best, you’ve got to be the best and be able to keep up. Although most firefighters are male, Lang knew she could pass all the tests to earn her badge.

“I didn’t know it was an option for the longest time,” Lam said. “I assumed it was just the guy’s job. But I think it’s one of those things where it’s like you told me I can’t do something. I’m going to try my best to do it. So I tried my best, and I got it.”

“There’s always been a competition,” said Detroit Fire Department Lt. Richard Halsell. “But she bought the next level competition because she was doing things that guys who’s six foot you know, 200 pounds are doing she’s doing it so it’s like oh, ‘she can do it, I can do it.’”

It wasn’t until she was on the job one day that a co-worker pointed out that Lam was the first female Asian American firefighter the DFD had ever seen.

“He was like, ‘you do realize that, right,’” Lam said. “I was like, ‘no, I didn’t know.’”

Lam says she loves representing her Asian heritage within the department and hopes young women and Asian women look up to her and know that they can do this job.

“I mean, Metro Detroit has a large Asian population, and I want those females to know that they can, you know, do this job too,” Lam said. “And I have a daughter myself, and I want her to know that if she works hard and prepares for the job like she could do anything she wants to.”

Lt. Halsell says he already sees that Lam is that role model for young women. He has two daughters who are always talking about what she is up to. So Lam is already changing the perception of what a Detroit firefighter looks like.

About the Authors:

You can watch Kim on the morning newscast weekdays from 4:30 to 7 a.m., and frequently doing reports on the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts.

Brandon Carr is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit and has been with WDIV Local 4 since November 2021. Brandon is the 2015 Solomon Kinloch Humanitarian award recipient for Community Service.