Chao Xiong is - as far as he is aware - the only Hmong firefighter in America.
For three days a week, Xiong
works 24 hours straight at the firehouse, then has 24 hours off.His
workday runs from 7 a.m. through the night and into the morning.After the three-day rotation and a 56-hour workweek, he'll have four days off.
"If any emergency call comes, we get up and go." Xiong
wife works full-time on second shift.The Xiongs have four children from 14 to 20 years of age."It's tough sometimes," Xiong
said of the demands of his
profession and of family and home.
...Xiong graduated from Eau Claire North High School in 1983 and then graduated from Rice Lake, a two-year college where he took courses related to mining engineering.Then attended the UW-Eau Claire, where he majored in business administration. In 1989, after the city of Eau Claire had received a block grant from the state with project money dedicated to improving the fire department, Xiong answered an advertisement for an administrative position as an intern with the Eau Claire fire department.
The job called for data entry, paper work and other responsibilities, as well as communications related to fire safety and hazards.He
got the job, but soon found he
was overloaded."I could not handle the college credits, and working and taking the emergency classes, so I dropped school and continued working."He
was 30 credits short of his
After deciding to move from administrative intern work to firefighting, Xiong
took classes related to emergency technology at an Eau Claire
vocational school."It was very hard at the time - the medical emergency stuff was very difficult," he
said.While working at the fire department, he
also was took Firefighting I and II. Xiong
passed the state exams and received his
fire fighting certification.After that, he
had to take a written general-education test under the city requirements and pass a physical agility course that included climbing up a ladder with a pack, carrying a water hose while walking on beam, and entering a house blindfolded, to find his
way out within two minutes.
"There's nothing better than my job ... Firefighters are respected."He's
been with the department since 1989 and now serves in station No. 9.
briefly discussed the cultural differences that drive his
was born "somewhere" in Laos, where his
father was a farmer and head of the village.With one younger brother, he
arrived in the United States on Dec. 22, 1979.Xiong estimates that he
was 18 years old.
enjoys music and played lead and bass guitar, which he
taught himself soon after he
arrived in the U.S.He
founded a band, Jeiveh, named after his
great grandfather who came from China in the 19th century.The group plays "loud classic" American and Thai music at graduations, weddings and other events.That happens only a couple times a year."It's more like a fun thing to do," said Xiong
played soccer in high school and college, now dabbles in the game for the exercise.He
also enjoys hunting, and fishing for bass and walleye.
It was very sad in the fire department," Xiong
first saw the attack on television he
cried.It took weeks until he
could begin to discuss it with his
co-workers at the station and with his
wife and children at home.