Brian Cummings was named the newest Los Angeles Fire Chief this year, but it was not always his intention to lead the city’s fire safety.

“My father always encouraged us to pursue an education,” said Cummings. “He never encouraged me to be a firefighter. I wanted to be an electronic engineer. That was my goal.”

After graduating Loyola High School, he entered UCLA thinking his destiny was going to lead him away from the family tradition. But soon he began to realize it was in his blood to serve the people. So he decided to become a firefighter.

His father, Louis Cummings Jr., had been a Los Angeles firefighter for 30 years, and had once served as president of the Stentorians, an organization of African American firemen who had joined together to fight racism. Beside that, Brian had known Arnett Hartsfield–the legendary “rookie” who had joined the Fire Department in 1940–since he was a boy. “All the African American firefighters back then knew each other,” he said.

Over the years, the chief has seen his fair share of horror, but through it all he understands his purpose and importance of service.

“The most a heroic thing a firefighter does is to sign up to be a firefighter,” he said.

“My whole purpose for being there is to provide service–protect lives and property and to be of service to people in need.”