History-Making Career

Xiong Yang

History-Making Career

Xiong Yang is one of only a few Hmong firefighters in Wisconsin

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

Xiong Yang takes his unique status in stride. In 2011 he graduated with an associate degree in Fire Protection and was hired by the La Crosse Fire Department. That’s where he learned he was only the third Hmong firefighter in Wisconsin at the time.

“I’ve brushed that detail off in the past, but then someone mentions it again,” Xiong explains. “And I’m reminded it is something cool. I want children who look like me to see me and think they can be a firefighter too.”

Growing up in Oshkosh, Xiong was drawn to the career after watching 9/11 unfold on TV.  

“I watched firefighters risk their lives for strangers,” Xiong says. “I thought it was a noble cause and I just decided to do it.”

As a first-generation-born in the United States, Xiong relied on family and instructors to help him navigate college at Fox Valley Tech. His siblings, who had also attended the college, helped him apply for financial aid. And his instructors continually reinforced that Xiong was exactly where he belonged.

“There were times I wondered if I was in the right program. Most classmates were bigger, taller and no one looked like me,” Xiong explains. “But my instructors were so knowledgeable and kept encouraging me. They always said that if they could do it, I could do it too. I just needed to keep believing in myself.

“What also helped was FVTC required an internship before graduation. I did mine with Neenah-Menasha Fire Rescue (NMFR) and that was a great real-life experience. It reaffirmed my decision to be a firefighter.”

Six years ago, Xiong returned to NMFR but this time as a full-time firefighter. He’s now 10 years into his career and he confirms his passion for the job remains strong.

“We are there to help. We try to make someone’s worst day of their lives just a little bit better. It’s a profession to be proud of.”