By Karimu Abena Hamilton
|photo provided by karimu abena|
In 1763 Benjamin Franklin organized the first volunteer fire company in Philadelphia. The notion evolved from a fire that wiped out a large portion of warehouses on a wharf and burned down three homes causing thousands of dollars in damages. The company was called the Bucket Brigade., which enlisted 30 members of the established white privileged males. In 1818 a Philadelphian African American Fire Club was organized by a group called the African Fire Association. Unfortunately, the organization was dismantled as a result of resistance from white fire fighters that felt it would be a threat to the communities that they would potentially serve. "The formation of fire-engine and hose companies by persons of color will be productive of serious injury to the peace and safety of citizens in time of fire, and it is earnestly recommended to the citizens of Philadelphia to give them no support, aid, or encouragement in the formation of their companies, as there are as many, if not more, companies already existing than are necessary at fires or are properly supported.”
It has been documented that the first Woman Fire Fighter was actually an African American Woman named Molly Williams of New York. It has been rumored that she wore a calico dress and checkered apron as she confronted numerous fires alongside her male counterparts. Centuries later, Fire Departments all over the country have become inclusive of all races and gender. Lisa Forrest was inducted as the first PFD African American Woman Fire Captain and would be the third woman fire fighter captain of the City of Philadelphia.
In the West Philadelphia Quiana Cureton- Williams has broken barriers and made history as well. She is the first African American and Female Firefighter of Engine 68. “I have always wanted to accomplish goals that were nontraditional for women.” Williams explains. She is a mother, wife and Firefighter. “I have been working for the department for the last 7 years, being a woman has its challenges, but I love my job.” A day for Williams starts off with an inspection of the vehicles and her equipment. “We are also responsible for the house cleaning and food preparation.” “We stay at the firehouse in shifts, which allows us to spend time with our families.” “The firehouse itself can be considered a second home and the engine members are a part of my extended family.” It has to be that way for we rely so heavily on each other when fighting fires.” Williams recalls one of her most memorable Fire Fights was on 52nd and Lancaster Avenue at an elementary school. The crew had pulled out and she was the last one remaining in the building. “I was alarmed but the Department trains us to remain professional and think quickly in those types of situations.” Williams reflects. “As an example to my community members with proper training and hard work you can do anything you put your mind to.”