N.C. Responders Recall Pioneering Racial Integration

N.C. Responders Recall Pioneering Racial Integration

News Feb 23, 2013

Chick Carter didn't have any thought of being a pioneer back in 1951.

He didn't even want to be a firefighter.

But a friend urged him to come along one day and stand in the long line of people applying to be the first black firefighters in Winston-Salem. That friend, John Ford, saw someone he knew up at the front of the line and walked up. He motioned for Carter to join him. A conversation turned into a chance to jump the long line.

And Carter found himself a member of an eight-man recruiting class that turned into the first racially integrated fire company.

Carter and the other three living members of Engine Four were honored Friday in a black history program taking place at the Goodwill Industries headquarters on University Parkway.

Carter, Raphael O. Black, Robert L. Grier and John Roi Thomas all sat in the front row as Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines and others talked about their achievements and those of other blacks who have pioneered roles in the department.

Among those were the black fire chiefs who have led the department: Lester Ervin, chief from 1980 to 1989; Otis Cooper, chief from 1993 to 1998; John W. Gist, chief from 1998 to 2008; and Antony Farmer, the current chief.

After the ceremony, Carter told how he was at loose ends when he decided to try out being a fireman. He had dropped out of Winston-Salem Teachers College, as it was known then, to play baseball, where he picked up the nickname Chick (his real name is Willie J. Carter). When Carter discovered he was not going to get into the Majors he knew he had to make other plans. He told his wife he would try being a firefighter for six months, then go back to college.

"I stayed 35 years," Carter said.

It wasn't easy being a black firefighter back in the 1950s. Chief M.G. Brown was against having the black firefighters in the department, Carter said, and tried to make life hard.

Continue Reading

"When we had our training, he didn't even give us fire gear to train in," Carter said. "We were training in civilian clothes." Carter said black firefighters got "the most distasteful assignments" and weren't rotated out for rest breaks, as the other men were, when they were on the scene of a big fire.

But don't get the impression that the retired firefighters are nursing grudges. They tell their tales like a veteran tells war stories.

"They sent us on the worst fires," Thomas said. "They did it to discourage us, but we just laughed and went on."

Quietly, almost secretly, the black and white firefighters ended the petty segregation at the Engine Four firehouse.

Engine Four consisted of the eight black firefighters and seven white officers who had volunteered for duty there.

At first the segregation was what you'd expect in the 1950s in the South: Separate water fountains, bathrooms, meals and so on.

Thomas said one white officer decided it didn't make sense. Why couldn't they all just use the same facilities and eat together, since they were all there at the firehouse? So that's what they did, long before the era of sit-ins and demonstrations. The chief didn't like it, Thomas said, but ended up having to tolerate it.

One of the eight black firefighters, Lester Ervin, became fire chief in Winston-Salem in 1980 and retired in 1989 with 38 years of service. Ervin died in 1998. His granddaughter, Taelor Dickenson, was there to accept recognition on his behalf during the ceremony.

"I look at us as trailblazers," Thomas said. "If we had failed we would have set a bad example."

Copyright 2013 - Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Source
Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.
Wesley Young
Crestline Coach attended the Eighth Annual Saskatchewan Health & Safety Leadership conference on June 8 to publicly sign the “Mission: Zero” charter on behalf of the organization, its employees and their families.
ImageTrend, Inc. announced the winners of the 2017 Hooley Awards, which recognize those who are serving in a new or innovative way to meet the needs of their organization, including developing programs or solutions to benefit providers, administrators, or the community.
Firefighters trained with the local hospital in a drill involving a chemical spill, practicing a decontamination process and setting up a mass casualty tent for patient treatment.
Many oppose officials nationwide who propose limiting Narcan treatment on patients who overdose multiple times to save city dollars, saying it's their job to save lives, not to play God.
While it's unclear what exact substance they were exposed to while treating a patient for cardiac arrest, two paramedics, an EMT and a fire chief were observed at a hospital after experiencing high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and mood changes.
After a forest fire broke out, students, residents and nursing home residents were evacuated and treated for light smoke inhalation before police started allowing people to return to their buildings.
AAA’s Stars of Life program celebrates the contributions of ambulance professionals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in service to their communities or the EMS profession.
Forthcoming events across the country will provide a forum for questions and ideas
The Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (HCOHSEM) has released its 2016 Annual Report summarizing HCOHSEM’s challenges, operations and key accomplishments during the past year.
Patients living in rural areas can wait up to 30 minutes on average for EMS to arrive, whereas suburban or urban residents will wait up to an average of seven minutes.
Tony Spadaro immediately started performing CPR on his wife, Donna, when she went into cardiac arrest, contributing to her survival coupled with the quick response of the local EMS team, who administered an AED shock to restore her heartbeat.
Sunstar Paramedics’ clinical services department and employee Stephen Glatstein received statewide awards.
A Good Samaritan, Jeremy English, flagged down a passing police officer asking him for Narcan after realizing the passengers in the parked car he stopped to help were overdosing on synthetic cannabinoids.
Family and fellow firefighters and paramedics mourn the loss of Todd Middendorf, 46, called "one of the cornerstones" of the department.
The levy is projected to raise about $525,000 per year, and that money must be spent only on the Othello Hospital District ambulance service.