Honoring Harold B. Hairston: Philadelphia’s First African American Fire Commissioner
Fireman’s Hall Museum hosted a special program on February 27, 2017, honoring former Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Harold Hairston. Commissioner Hairston who died last fall served as the first African American Fire Commissioner for the PFD from 1992 – 2004.
Above: BC Harold Hairston on left at Ladder 11, c. 1981
He entered the PFD in 1965 and rose rapidly and earned two unit citations along the way for lifesaving rescues. One came in 1980 when he pulled a one year old out of a burning building without backup or breathing equipment. During Commissioner Hairston’s tenure the role of the emergency medical service took on even greater significance and he expanded those roles with new equipment and computerization. He felt the great achievement of his administration was the decrease in fire deaths, which he attributed to stronger codes and community involvement. He began a fire prevention essay contest in 1992 and in 1995 undertook a residential fire inspection throughout the city.
Easily recognized by his Kangols hats, Hairston could often be seen strolling the streets of Old City Philadelphia during lunch breaks, visiting fire houses and attending a myriad of civic meetings.
Hairston took an active interest in Fireman’s Hall Museum, an interest that continued long after his retirement. Stop into Fireman’s Hall Museum to see the tribute organized in his memory.