Art Price stands next to large Madison Fire Department emblemThe Madison Fire Department recently said goodbye to Assistant Chief of Operations Art Price, who retired from MFD on June 1 after 32 years of service to the City.

More than three decades ago, Price was poised to attend grad school to pursue a Masters degree in education when he learned about the opportunity to become a career firefighter with the MFD. Encouraged by others already on the job, Price applied, was offered the opportunity, and began the MFD recruit academy in 1990.

Before he had a chance to get settled in the field, he was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime: to compete in the America's Cup international sailing competition. He took the leave of absence offered to him and headed to San Diego to compete with the U.S. San Diego Yacht Club. The team clinched the cup on what happened to be Price's 30th birthday.

Art Price with his America's Cup team and trophy, 1990
Team USA clinched the America's Cup on Price's 30th birthday
After a year and a half away, he returned to Madison and to the fire academy. His first assignment as a firefighter/EMT was to Fire Station 9 on the near west side. Then, after some time at Station 4 and Station 8, Price found a home in the Fire Training Division. The variety of assignments, as well as the opportunity to make an impact on the entire department, proved a rewarding and eye-opening experience.

"I had the opportunity to work with some different chiefs with different projects, and after watching what they did and how they did it, I thought that their job might be interesting," said Price. "That was the first time I had a thought of doing what they did."

But first, he needed to gain experience as a Lieutenant. He was promoted to that rank in 2006 and assigned to Fire Station 1 in the heart of the city. The call volume at the downtown firehouse matched his drive to keep busy, but the reduced scope of responsibility—from touching the whole department to just one crew—took some adjustment. At the same time, it was yet another sign there was more he wanted to do.

"All I ever really wanted was an opportunity," he said. "I felt like I could do most things. I just needed to be exposed to it."

In 2007, Price was promoted to Division Chief, becoming the second Black chief officer in the department's history. Assigned to the Health & Wellness Division, Price was also appointed the department's Recruitment Coordinator. In that role, he helped the department consider new ways it could attract more people of color and women to the job.

Art Price poses in front of a training burn involving an old farmhouse
"The most fun I had on the job was being involved in training."
"If we did nothing, we would get a thousand white males without any effort. We actually realized we needed to go recruit women and minorities," said Price, who mobilized members of the department, including then-Fire Chief Debra Amesqua, to do direct outreach to local community groups, churches, athletic teams, and elsewhere.

As their efforts evolved, the department also recognized there were barriers within the application and interview processes that were having a disparate impact on women and people of color. Further changes were made, including modernizing the application process, to make the career opportunity more accessible to a greater number of people.

"We saw, at the end, we had more diversity to choose from, and that was a good thing," Price said.

For Price, access to opportunity was a recurring theme throughout his career. As someone who didn't know he could be a successful firefighter until he was exposed to the idea, making people feel safe, comfortable, and welcome to try new things was central to his leadership.
Art Price in Command Car 31 with Chief's Aide David Bridges
Price in Command Car 31 with Chief's Aide David Bridges
"People are afraid to learn if they're afraid of the environment, if they're going to be criticized for learning or not knowing," he said.

He applied these principles not just to the Madison Fire Department but to other City agencies as well, becoming more involved with the City's Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative (RESJI) and helping the City develop bias training. Sharing stories of his own experiences as a Black man navigating a majority-white society, Price enlightened people to what unconscious bias is and the widespread impact it can have on individuals, workplaces, and entire communities.

Over the course of his career, Price is happy to have seen the fire department's culture change from what he described as "more of a suck-it-up culture" to what it is today— a culture that recognizes that mental and emotional health and safety are just as important as physical health and safety. He's proud to have contributed to that culture in a variety of ways, including his work in the early development of what is now the Peer Support Team.

As he embarks on retirement, Price looks forward to spending quality time with his wife, Ann, traveling the country, and playing more golf. Someday, he may return to teaching.

"The most fun I had on the job was being involved in training," Price reflects. "I would love to do that again."
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