African American History in the Fire Department

A brief history of the contributions of African Americans serving in the St. Louis Fire Department.

St. Louis Fire Department History:
African-American History In The St. Louis Fire Department

On May 16, 1921, history was made when Paul S. Farbush, Lorenzo Graham, Thomas S. Hill, Claude Johnston, Henry Porter, Frank Slaughter, and Walter Hill, along with Pearl Bishop (who was hired a day later) became the first African-American men hired to work for the St. Louis Fire Department. These seven men were initially assigned to Engine Company #24, located at 1214 Spruce Street.

The next group of African-American firefighters were hired in 1926, with some of them being assigned to Engine Company 10 located at 20 S. Jefferson. When Engine Company 24 closed, all of the African-American firefighters from Engine Company 24 and Engine Company 10 were reassigned to Engine Company 28 and Hook and Ladder 9, located at 3934 Enright, on September 1 1929.

Claude Johnston was the first African-American to be promoted to Lieutenant on July 16, 1926, and then to the rank of Captain on November 16, 1929. He was also the first African-American firefighter to serve 40 years.

Engine Company 28 became a segregated house in 1933, when the last of the white firefighters were removed with the promotion of Lorenzo Graham to Captain.

In 1934, Private Thomas Hill and Robert Turner were assigned as engineers, becoming the first African-American firefighters to be allowed to drive the fire apparatus.

Engine Company 10 was relocated to Whittier and Kennerly in 1942, and was reorganized to accept black firefighters.

In 1943, the City of St. Louis Department of Personnel was placed under Civil Service, and Quentin O'Neal became the first African-American to be promoted under Civil Service.

On June 9, 1952, Engine 17 and Hook and Ladder 9 collided at Vandeventer and Easton while responding to an alarm, killing Private William Grady, the only African-American to be killed in the line of duty, up until Captain (post.) Derek Martin in 2002. Two other firefighters also perished at the accident.

On December 1, 1952, Earl L. Hatton was the first African-American firefighter promoted to the Fire Investigation Unit as an investigator.

In April of 1961, the era of segregated Engine Houses came to an end, when Chief Robert Olson eliminated the segregated Engine Companies 10 and 28, and Hook and Ladder 9. He reassigned the personnel to various other firehouses throughout the city.

On August 15, 1976, Preston Bouie was the first African-American to be promoted to Battalion Chief and the first to be promoted to Deputy Chief on August 13, 1978. On June 17, 1983, Chief Bouie was promoted to the position of Assistant Fire Chief, the only African-American to serve in that position.

John Williams was the first African-American to be hired in Fire Alarm as a dispatcher in 1981. He was later promoted to Senior Fire Equipment Dispatcher in March 2000 and to Fire Alarm Manager in April of 2003.

The history of the African-American female firefighter began in 1987 when, for the first time, women became part of the St. Louis Fire Department. Two of the five women hired were African-American, Claudia Stevenson and Anita Stewart. Claudia Stevenson went on to become the first African-American female promoted to the rank of Fire Captain.

On October 28, 1988, George Horne became the first African-American Fire Marshal for the St. Louis Fire Department.

In a department rich with generations and traditions, tradition also began to arise among the African-American firefighting families.

  • First father and son team, Deputy Chief Stanley Newsome and Firefighter Stanley Newsome, Jr.

  • Claudia Stevenson and Brad Stevenson became the first African-American brother and sister to work for the fire department, first as Privates then as Captains.

  • First African-American brothers Roy George and Sherman George. They were also the first brothers to be promoted on the same day as Battalion Chiefs on June 13, 1986.

On June 13, 1986, seven African-Americans were promoted to Battalion Chief, out of a total of 15 battalion Chiefs promoted.

In November of 1999, the City of St. Louis made history when it promoted Deputy Chief Sherman George to Fire Commissioner and Chief of the St. Louis Fire Department. This marked the beginning of a new era in the history of the African-American firefighter on the St. Louis Fire Department.

Into the New Millennium

 

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