Earl Gage Jr. was born in 1926 in Beaumont Texas and moved to San Francisco with his six siblings in 1945. Earl was a student at City College San Francisco and subsequently attended UC Berkeley as a pre-med student.
Being the first Black firefighter presented enormous challenges for Mr.Gage. He experienced racism and outright hostility from co-workers and the community throughout the twelve years in which he was the only Black firefighter.
In the fire station sleeping quarters, fellow firefighters would soil his mattress forcing Mr. Gage to throw it away. When crews were assigned rotating beds, some would refuse to sleep on a mattress previously used by Gage. As a result, Gage started to bring his own mattress that he transported himself to the different stations.
Throughout his tenure, he experienced so much racism and threats from the public, department chiefs moved him from fighting fires to serving as Director of Community Services
These were just a few of the obstacles that Earl Gage had to overcome throughout his life.
In early 1969, Gage began calling for increased diversity in the department.
His elevation to and work as Director of Community Services was supported by San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto. While in this position, Gage used his influence to recruit more Black firefighters, which began improving the diversity among SFFD ranks. Mr. Gage also hired Robert Demmons, who would eventually go on to become San Francisco's first Black fire chief.
During his tenure in leadership Mr. Gage also re-launched two SFFD programs: field trips for children to visit and learn about the fire department, and holiday decorating of San Francisco fire stations.
In 1983 after 28 years of service as a San Francisco firefighter, Earl Gage Jr. retired from his post. Several years later in 1987, Mr. Gage was named in a federal consent decree for the San Francisco Fire Department to increase diversity in race and gender within its ranks.
Earl Gage Jr., San Francisco's first Black firefighter passed away in 2017 in Elk Grove, California. Mr. Gage's funeral services were held at the Third Baptist Church right here in Alamo Square.
In 2020 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors named part of Willow street after Earl Gage. On Friday, February 25th, a mural honoring Earl Gage Jr. was unveiled at Rosa Parks Elementary school in San Francisco.