The Monroe Evening News, Bryan Bosch, Associated Press
In this Nov. 30, 2011 photo, Chief Manuel Hoskins stands near a fire truck at the City of Monroe Fire Department. Hoskins says he's proud of being Monroe's first African-American fire chief, but he's more concerned about getting the job done right.

MONROE, Mich. — When he was a young man serving in the military, Manuel Hoskins III assumed he eventually was going to pursue a job at the Ford plant in Monroe just like his father did.

He never considered being a firefighter because, frankly, he didn't think it was possible for an African-American man to pursue such a career. But at the urging of his friend, Bev Heck, he applied and eventually became a firefighter.

Now 22 years later, he has been promoted to chief, the first African American to be a department head for the City of Monroe.

"Even with the odds against him, he came out a winner," said the Rev. Allen Overton, pastor of the Second Missionary Baptist Church in Monroe.

"We're excited and proud of Manuel and his family. He is a bright light in Monroe and the African-American community. We're proud of him."

For Chief Hoskins, the promotion is the achievement of a career goal.

"I've always inspired to put myself in a position of leadership," the 47-year-old chief said. "It brings a lot of pride to me personally and pride to the African-American community."

The lifelong Monroe resident is not afraid to call himself a pioneer.

Although he does feel extra pressure because any mistake he makes could be magnified, Hoskins accepted the role because he feels he earned it and he is confident in his qualifications.

The Air Force veteran earned his master's degree in organizational leadership from Siena Heights University, Adrian, in 2006 and rose through the fire department ranks.

Hoskins said exposure to leadership in the military, field and classroom prepared him for accepting input from others and making tough decisions.

His immediate goal is to continue working with his staff and police officers who have been trained to help fight fires in the city's public safety officer program. He acknowledges some animosity remains among the firefighters, plans to open lines of communication to make certain the program works.

He would prefer to have a full staff of firefighters, but understands a new system is not going away.

"My task is to make the public safety program work as effectively as possible," Hoskins said. "I'd rather have all firefighters, of course, but that is not the direction we're going."

Hoskins said he will make sure that internal issues do not affect emergency response and care to the public.

"We're all professionals," Hoskins said. "The citizens are not going to see a change in service. We're here to serve them, and that's the main thing."

The son of Martha and the late Manuel Hoskins, Chief Hoskins lives in Monroe with Renae, his wife of 25 years. They have two daughters, Simone, 20, and Raven, 12. He said it was extra special to be promoted here.

"I love Monroe," Hoskins said. "That's why it's special to be chief of my hometown fire department."

Information from: The Monroe Evening News, http://www.monroenews.com