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Battalion chief is a first for Salt Lake

18-year vet is the first black to achieve rank in department

Salt Lake City Fire Capt. Jeffrey Thomas was promoted to the rank of battalion chief Friday, making him the first African-American to achieve the rank in the department's history.

"How do you put the promotion of a lifetime into words?" said Thomas when asked about his new rank.

During a packed ceremony at Fire Station No. 1 at the corner of 500 East and 200 South, the towering Thomas raised his right hand and was sworn in. A very vociferous round of applause followed from friends, family and other firefighters in the audience.

Thomas' family helped put his new badge on his uniform while his young son took care of his new white, battalion chief helmet.

"I hope to pass one of these down to him one of these days," he said while handing the helmet to his son.

Thomas has been with the Salt Lake City Fire Department for 18 years. For more than a decade he was worked in the downtown area. Thomas said he purposely wanted to do that not only to continue being a role model for his kids but also other young minority children.

"I've always tried to be an ambassador to the minority community," he said.

Thomas, who scored the highest of any applicant on his battalion chief test, said his promotion to the rank is no more special than any other person who has been promoted to battalion chief.

However, Thomas hopes his higher-profile position may encourage other minorities to seek jobs at the fire department. He said what he brought to the rank was a "cultural background that may be different" than what the city has had before.

Thomas hopes that could be the springboard to bring more cultural diversity into the department.

As for future aspirations, Thomas said he just wants to concentrate on learning all he needs to know to be a successful battalion chief.


E-mail: preavy@desnews.com