City officials ordered flags flown at half staff to honor former fire Chief John B. Stewart Jr., a 40-year veteran of the Hartford fire department, who died Sunday morning. Stewart was the first African American fire chief in New England when he took over the department in 1980. He remained chief for 12 years before getting into politics, and eventually became majority leader of the city council.
Stewart recently was appointed by Mayor Pedro Segarra to lead a task force reviewing fire department procedures after the death of Kevin Bell while fighting a fire in October 2014.
In a statement issued Sunday night, Segarra said Stewart overcame racial barriers to join the department in 1952.
"He [Stewart] remained close and involved in our community after his retirement. In his own words, he was 'proof that Hartford represents the American Dream,' " Segarra said. "My heart goes out to his family, his loved ones, and all those whose lives he touched."
Segarra ordered the flags left at half staff until next Sunday.