The first Black Firefighter in the Roanoke Fire Department

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Early on, in the beginning of this blog, I talked about a Firefighter Roster. This roster is still incomplete, and might never be complete. How is it that I could stamp a “complete” on the roster when there is no one here to verify Firefighters who were here in the beginning. Captain Wiseman did an excellent job collecting information. He has probably 10 incomplete rosters. I have taken them and formed one roster. I would like to expand the roster some day, but at this point I have it in this format; last name, first name, position (highest obtained), hire date, retire/leave date, nickname, additional information, station assignment. In the past firefighters stayed at a station for their entire career or at least 3/4 of it. Nowadays, for several reasons, firefighters are moved around from station to station, shift to shift. Currently we only have a couple of firefighters who have been at a single station for any length of time. Good or bad, that is how it is.

The First Black Firefighter in Roanoke City:
For a while now I have been asking around as to who exactly was the first black firefighter here in the City. Everybody knew that Rawleigh Quarles was hired in December 1, 1963. Quarles, who became Chief on July 13, 1989, was thought to be the first one. However if you ask around there was another. But who was it. Who was the man who broke the racial barrier in the Roanoke Fire Department. His name was Joseph C. Crutchfield. He was also hired on December 1, 1963. So who gets the credit for breaking the racial barrier. Well being that both of the men mentioned came on the same day they both do. However Crutchfield actually signed the papers first. That indeed is a formality which exists today. If you look at the Seniority list you will see many firefighters hired on the same day. The order they are in is not random or alphabetically it is indeed the order in which the new employees signed the list on the first day of work. So indeed the case of who gets the credit is kind of like twins. They both were hired on the same day, but one signed the paper first.

Other firsts in the Department:

1st Black Female hired: Lt. Nichole Wade April 21, 1997, who recently left the dept. to work for the Railroad.
1st Female: Lt. Helen Bender, FF/PM Tonya Meeks, FF/PM Karen Ash, and FF/PM Gracie Humbert all came to the Fire Department in the merge in late 1995. So they are all credited with breaking the gender barrier her in Roanoke. Of these four, I believe that Lt. Helen Bender had been with the EMS Department the longest.

If you have a request of information on certain statistics or other firsts let me know and I would be happy to research the information. Email FireFleitz

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