I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
— Nelson Mandela

What We've Achieved

The Columbus Division of Fire was established in 1835. Early records of black firefighters within the Columbus Fire Department are limited. Historical records indicate that perhaps the first black firefighter entered the fire department sometime after the civil war in 1879. Two firefighters, P. Higginsbotham and J.M. Logan are believed to have been the first black firefighters in Columbus.

In 1897 the Mayor of Columbus signed the King Colored Fireman Ordinance which set apart a new Oak Street Engine House for the exclusive use of colored members on the department. The colored firemen would remain at the Oak Street Firehouse until 1913, when the colored company was disbanded. It’s speculated that the department didn’t want colored firemen working along side white firemen, so the colored firefighters were all assigned to a newly formed position for the city as fire wardens (inspectors).

From 1913 until 1932 there were no records of any blacks working as firefighters for the city of Columbus. However in 1935, a prominent black lawyer named Percy Lowery convinced the mayor of that time that Columbus should have black firefighters and so on the 100th year anniversary of the Columbus Fire Department the city hired sixteen black men from the civil service exam and they would be assigned to Station 8 (on N. 20th St).

In 1948, there were a total of twenty eight black firemen at this station, which was the highest number of blacks at any on time in the history of the fire department until 1975.

In 1954 the Fire Chief implemented the desegregation of the fire department, beginning with Station 8. Between an eighteen year span (1955 to 1973) only twelve more blacks were appointed to the rank of firefighter. By the end of 1973 there were only eighteen black firefighters working for the city.

In 1969, black and minority firefighters of all ranks from municipalities across the United States met in New York City for two days to discuss the injustices that existed in the fire service for the black firefighter and the black community. In October of 1970, the first convention of black professional firefighters was held in Hartford, Connecticut and the constitution and the purpose structure of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF) were adopted.

In 1975 the city of Columbus was found guilty of racial discrimination in its hiring practices, under Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The city of Columbus developed a strong affirmative action program. The city sought to create a dual (50/50) list to meet the disparity of past hiring practices to bring what was unfair to just.

During this time some black firefighters of Columbus formed a group called the Maltese Falcons with the intent to secure the same mission of the IABPFF, but locally. By 1989, the numbers of the Columbus black firefighter was increased exponentially, and they began to hold informal meetings to discuss the trials and tribulations that they were experiencing while working as firefighters. They decided to form a more official organization and make it incorporated. This organization was named the Columbus African American Firefighter Association (CAAFA). It’s founder and president was James C.Pearson.

By 1991, the city of Columbus had 210 African American firefighters (which was approx. 19.5% of the division). That same year an injunction was filed and upheld against the city of Columbus for having discriminatory hiring practices which ended the dual list (finding it’s recruiting and hiring practices invalid).

Today, the city of Columbus mayor feels that the divisions of fire should represent the city that it serves. Currently the city of Columbus consist of approx. 30% African American and currently our division has only 9% (approx).

The goal of CAAFA remains true:

  • Which is to provide our members with opportunities for professional and cultural growth and development.

  • To serve as a network and support group.

  • To serve as a resource and liaison for the African American community in obtaining quality emergency services.

  • To be exemplary in their performance that honors excellence and achievement in this profession.

  • To assist others in seeking a career in the fire service and other related opportunities.