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African American History Month: A Celebration of Pioneers in the American Fire Service

Cross-posted from USFA's Chief's Corner

African Americans in the U.S. Fire Service

According to the most recent (2009) Bureau of Labor Statistics data there are:

18,600 African-Americans career firefighters (making up 7.5% of the career firefighter population of 284,000).

10,900 African-American career emergency medical technicians and paramedics (representing 7.9% of the emergency medical services work force).

3,942 African-American career fire service officers (first line supervisors or higher) comprising 7.3% of supervisory positions within the career fire service (54,000 total).

On May 19, 1876, Indianapolis Fire Chief W. O. Sherwood appointed the first four African Americans to the Indianapolis Fire Department.
On May 19, 1876, Indianapolis Fire Chief W. O. Sherwood appointed the first four African Americans to the Indianapolis Fire Department. Photo: Indianapolis Fire Department
In celebration of African American History Month this February, I thought it would be most appropriate to look back and remember African Americans who have led the way in making American fire service history:

  1. The oldest documents identifying government sanctioned African American firefighters were found in New Orleans, Louisiana. A devastating fire in July 1817 led the governing body to organize its people to avoid another conflagration. All draymen and their equipment as well as individual free men of color and slaves were recruited.
  2. The first woman firefighter was an African American. Molly Williams worked along side the men of the Oceanus Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 of New York City in 1818.
  3. Patrick H. Raymond was appointed on January 5, 1871 as the first African American Fire Chief in the United States (Cambridge, MA).
  4. The International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters was organized in Hartford, CT in 1970.
  5. Robert O. Lowery was the first African American Fire Commissioner of a major U.S. city. He was the Fire Department of New York's 21st Fire Commissioner, serving from January 1, 1966 until September 29, 1973.
  6. Toni McIntosh of the Pittsburgh (PA) Bureau of Fire was the first African-American woman to become a career firefighter in June of 1976.
  7. Cecelia O. Salters (now Cecelia Owens-Cox) was the first woman to be assigned to a New York City truck company in 1984.
  8. Black Women in the Fire Service was established as a subcommittee of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters in 1988 to address rising issues related to African American firefighters. The organization became a stand-alone committee in 1996.
  9. The first African American United States Fire Administrator, Carrye B. Brown, was appointed in 1994.
  10. The first African American woman appointed as Fire Chief for a career fire department was Chief Rosemary Cloud with the East Point (GA) Fire Department in 2002.
  11. The second African American United States Fire Administrator, Kelvin J. Cochran, was appointed in 2009.

It is important for the American Fire Service to recognize the accomplishments of these pioneering individuals. I encourage you to visit the African American Fire Fighting Museum's website for more information on the struggles and accomplishments of African American firefighters, and the links below for multicultural and diversity strategies for the Fire Service.

Acting U.S. Fire Administrator Glenn Gaines

About USFA: As an entity of the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency, the mission of the USFA is to provide national leadership to foster a solid foundation for our fire and emergency services stakeholders in prevention, preparedness, and response.
Published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C.
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