BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Pay Respect to the Men and Women of the Memphis Fire Department

They may not be in the history books, but they are the reason that an untold number of Memphians have a history to tell at all.

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Firefighters. Do you ever really notice them?

Never been a firefighter before, but I have to imagine it’s VERY different from that other public service calling of being a police officer. Police officers, oh, we watch them like hawks. We pay attention to what they do and how they do it. We scrutinize them when they get it wrong and are often silent when they get it right.

But firefighters? Unless your house is on fire, do you stop to think about them? To consider what kind of person it takes to literally run into a burning building to save lives?

I ran across a couple of video clips produced by the Memphis Fire Department for Black History Month. One of them, the first I saw, was a montage of trailblazers in the Memphis Fire Department — the black firefighters who fought both fires and segregation. Set to an instrumental version of John Legend and Common’s “Glory,” it was moving.

So when I saw a second video, I was expecting to see more history makers — maybe the first black battalion chief, something like that. But the video was quite different.

Instead, over the same chords of “Glory,” we see a silent slideshow of images of Memphis firefighters — men and women of color — as they go about the business of being a firefighter. Hauling air tanks. Tightening fire hoses. Wiping sweat from their brow. Looking exhausted in some photos, joyful in others. I patiently waited for a narrator to explain the historic acts these individuals had accomplished, but it never came.

To my knowledge, none of the people shown in this clip have done anything that merits being in a history book. Unless you count saving a life. Or a whole family. Or containing a fire to see that it doesn’t destroy more property and life.

Nope, nothing historic, just saving lives and property for Memphians every day, that’s all.

As the clip ended, I immediately had a greater appreciation and respect for Memphis firefighters in general, and specifically the African American ones. Watch the clip above and pay them your respects as well.

And if you haven’t seen the exhibit honoring Memphis’ black firefighters at the Fire Museum of Memphis, you should go check it out.

They may not be in the history books, but they are the reason that an untold number of Memphians have a history to tell at all.