WWGR: Meet Everett Fire’s first African American battalion chief

EVERETT, Wash. — Rich Langford would probably agree that he was made for a job in the fire service.

A longtime paramedic and firefighter, he always went after the toughest assignments.

Now, he has a job no other African American has ever held at Everett Fire. He’s the department’s newest battalion chief.

Why, he was asked, did it take so long?

“First, it is a tested position,” said Langford. “So, it’s not as if there haven’t been African American chiefs in Everett. It’s just that I don’t believe that anybody else actually tested in this position.”

But he did test.

“As you progress through the department, there are ways to help the department get better, ways to make change,” said Langford.

Changes like learning how to put out electric vehicle fires.

“Because we have to have a system for how to put the battery fires out,” he said. “They can burn and keep burning. And then when you put them out, they can, they can re-ignite.”

It’s all a firefighter’s work.

Still, Langford wasn’t exactly born into the fire service. He went to college to study the sciences. But one fateful day in Seattle, he was hit by a car.

“The very kind Seattle medics took me to the hospital,” he said. “And then they came to check up on me at my job. And they talked to me about being a paramedic and about being a firefighter. And I had never considered it before. Never. (It) never, never crossed my mind. Until then. And I was hooked.”

He joined the Everett Fire Department in 1996. Twenty-three years later, his son joined the department, too.

He was asked if he felt race played a negative role in his career.

“No, no,” he insisted. “Not here. Not at all. No. I don’t think — these guys don’t care what color I am.”

As for those whose lives he is there to save?

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been called names,” he concedes.

But Langford says, throughout, he has been guided by one principle.

“If I can make a difference in one person’s life for even a short period of time,” he said, “then I’ve done what I’m supposed to be doing.”

All while leaving the citizens of his adopted community safer.