Although Black history can be celebrated throughout the year, Black History Month offers an opportunity to reflect on and share the successes and accomplishments of African Americans in the fire service. And by looking at the past and present, the future comes into view — a future of opportunity achieved through diversity, equity and inclusion.
In many ways, the American firefighting community mirrored other opportunities and was not initially open and welcoming to minorities. Thus, the history of Blacks and the American fire service is one of breaking through the barriers of prejudice.
Early records of Black firefighters are fragmented and incomplete. The oldest documentation of government-sanctioned African American firefighters goes back to 1817 in New Orleans, when free men of color and slaves were recruited following a devastating fire.
There are an estimated 1,115,000 firefighters (370,000 career, 745,000 volunteer) in the United States; 8.4% of career firefighters are African American PDF.
When seen through the lens of the past, this represents significant forward motion. However, as we help fire departments achieve their full potential, we at the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) believe that there is more work to be done to build a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce.
The USFA is hopeful for a future in which a fire department’s workforce reflects the community it serves and where all fire service leaders understand that a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment provides a fire department with the ability to:
- Provide a higher level of service with personnel that better understand community needs.
- Generate solutions to long-standing problems by exploring different perspectives and drawing on experience from various backgrounds.
- Leverage more experiences and different ideas to be more flexible, proactive and better able to adjust to new challenges.