Chen Suen, the fireman Battalion Chief for the City of Arcadia in Southern California, has been in the firefighter for over 15 years and hopes to inspire a new generation of Asian Americans to join the fire service.
Lack of Asian-American Representation
AA: You were one of the first Asian-American firefighters to join Arcadia FD. At the time over 50% of the city’s population was Chinese. Why do you think there was a lack of Asian-Americans represented in the fire department up until that time? Do you think there are cultural misconceptions about your profession?
CS: First-generation Chinese immigrants The fire service, at that time, was seen as a lower class profession. I can attest to this by my personal experience with my mom. There seemed to be little that appealed to my mom, aside from the dangers of the job. [Because the uneducated and those who had no other career goals and ambitions were the ones that traditionally filled the fire service in Taiwan.]
That trend has changed quite a bit in the last 10 years. [In fact] my parents love my career and are proud of my success thus far. The fire service has come a long way in Asia.
Becoming a Firefighter
AA: Aside from your father’s advice, what are some of the other reasons why becoming a firefighter was the right career choice for you.
CS: I love helping people. For me, it [was] a good fit. Each day brings something new, whether on calls or working with your fellow colleagues. It also brings stability and good benefits for my family.
On a larger scale, I see the importance of my presence in this field. Asian Americans make up a small percentage of the fire service as a whole. I feel as though I’m making a positive impact, representing my culture and ethnicity.
The Asian Community
AA: Being Asian American do you find yourself more involved in the community than non-Asian firemen simply because “Asian recognize Asian”?
CS: I wouldn’t phrase the question that way. I see myself involved in other ways rather than being more involved. Our small group of firefighters is very involved in community events.
With that being said, it is important to both my Fire Chief and me to use me as a tool to bridge the gap between the fire service and the community. I know after promoting to Battalion Chief, it was a common vision and goal to do this. So far, we’re looking at more ways to do this.
AA: Since there is an unwillingness amongst elder Asian immigrants parents or grandparents to call 911 until it’s too late. Does the Fire Department do anything to promote better awareness or outreach specific to the Asian community?
CS: I’ve looked at reaching to our local community groups. Such as faith-based organizations and the Arcadia Chinese Association. If I’m able to show my face and associate it with the badge and patch, the Asian American community is more willing to ask the questions about the emergency services. We will be looking to educate the public in a number of other ways. Some of those include but are not limited to Chinese social media platforms, Chinese-edited public service announcements, and working with the local high school.
Click here to learn more about the Arcadia Fire Department.