PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In honor of Black History Month, the Philadelphia Fire Department is taking time to recognize men and women who became pioneers for change.
The first African-American fire fighters in Philadelphia had to fight more than just fires.
They fought exclusion, racism, threats, segregation and smear campaigns.
In honor of Black History Month the fire department is recognizing those fights, like the ones Isaac Jacobs and Stephen Presco went through as the first black fire fighters in the department.
“We’re taking the time, to really celebrate the accomplishments and the important and continued contributions of African-American fire fighters in the Philadelphia Fire Department,” said Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel.
Accomplishment by Engine 11, the fire house where all black fire fighters were once stationed and the strides black women have made in the department took center stage.
“For a long time I never thought I would see the numbers that we have today, and once they started coming on they came with a different mindset too, it became very exciting, said Lt. Diane Jackson-Mercer.
The ceremony not only recognized black fire fighters from the past. It also took time to honor black fire fighters still making history.
“I hope that I’m able to be an example to people that come on the job, to show them they can also do this,” said Asst. Deputy Commissioner Crystal Yates EMS.
Yates is the first Assistant Deputy Commissioner EMS in the department, she says she would not be in her ground breaking position if it was not for the people before her, and she hopes to keep paving the way for the people who will come after her.
“I hope that high school girls look at me and say I can do that too,” she said.
Yates says she’s happy to see the progress blacks have made in the department.
“When I first came on the job in 1998 I knew every African-American person on the job, I knew every female on the job,” she said. “I am proud to say that’s no longer true. We must have grown significantly and I hope to see us grow even more.”
Commissioner Thiel says it’s important to have a fire department that reflects the diversity of the city, something he’s going to continue to push for.
“As we learn from our past, we still have a lot of work to do, so we know those contributions will continue, he said.