VIDEO: African American firefighters played a key role in developing a staple of the firehouse: the sliding pole.
In honor of Black History Month, CBS 2’s Derrick Young spoke with a retired fire chief turned author.
Dekalb Walcott served on the Chicago Fire Department for more than 30 years, retiring as a battalion chief in 2009. He’s now a historian at the Chicago African American Firefighters Museum.
“Blacks came on the Fire Department December 21st, 1872. They were established by the mayor, Joseph Medill,” Walcott said.
His book, “Black Heroes of Fire,” tells the story of Engine Company 21, Chicago’s first African-American engine company.
They didn’t make much money, they worked every day and they helped create the now iconic firehouse pole. Walcott said it was an ingenious invention.
“The members of this company practiced drilling, sliding the pole, making fast runouts. Those fast runouts made them nationally known. Why? Because they beat everybody else into their fires,” Walcott said.