Black History Month shouldn’t be treated as though it is somehow separate from our collective Amercian history-or boiled down to a compilation of greatest hits. This month should be more than just a commemoration of particular events. It’s about the shared experience of all Black Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, whose lives have shaped, challenged, and ultimately strengthened America. It’s about taking an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future. It’s a reminder of where we as a country have been so that we know where we need to go. –Barack Obama

A History of Service – African American Firefighters of the Philadelphia Fire Department

1886 PFD hires its first black firefighter – Isaac Jacobs

• 1891 PFD hires its second black firefighter, Stephen Presco, who dies in the Line of Duty 3/7/1907.

• 1931 Peter C. Graham becomes the first African American Officer, Leiutenant later promoted to Captain. He retired in 1950 and served for 31 years.

• Waldo Gentry, the last living member of the segregated department, passes away in 2019.

• 1953 James G. Davis becomes the first African-American Battalion Chief.

• 1962 Lieutenant Samuel Singelton starts Club Valiants. The Valiants help create IABPFF in 1970.

• 1985 the PFD hires its First Female Firefighter, Paulette Kennedy.

• 2013 Lisa Forrest & Crystal Yates become the First Black Female Captains.

Isaac Jacobs
Paulette Kennedy

Engine 11 – A Segregated Fire Company

October 1918: Engine 11 becomes a segregated fire company. This lasted until February 19, 1949 when the eleven African-American members were transferred to stations located throughout the city.

Learn more about Engine 11 on the website –

African American Leadership in the PFD

The City of Philadelphia has had four African-American Commissioners. You can read more about each of these men in the profiles we’ve compiled online.

Harold B. Hairston – 1992-2004

Lloyd Ayers – 200 -2014

Derrick L. Sawyer – 2014-2016

Craig Murphy – 2024-present

Line Of Duty Deaths

Learn more about these heroes by visiting their individual profiles on our LODD Memorial Wall.

Stephen Presco – March 7, 1907

Stanley Brown – June 6, 1982

David P. Holcombe – February 24, 1991

Phyliss McAllister – February 24, 1991

James A. Chappell – February 24, 1991

Vencent Acey – January 28, 1994

Terry McElveen – October 27, 1997

Derrick Harvey – January 15, 2004

Tracy Champion – January 28, 2006

Stephen M. Cospelich – May 19, 2009

Joyce Craig-Lewis – December 9, 2014

Gabriel G. Lee – July 23, 2016

Kenneth Greene – September 14, 2017

Benny Hutchins – June 27, 2018

Eric Gore – June 2, 2020

Terrance Gordon – October 2, 2021

Firefighter Brian Anderson,
Fireman’s Hall Museum Curator

Brian Anderson was assigned to the museum after injuring his knee while training in 2015. Brian became the first Black curator a few years later.

A second-generation African-America firefighter, Brian’s father was a Lieutenant with the PFD. He retired in 1999 one year before Brian joined the department. After fighting fires for 15 years, he’s now teaching fire prevention at the museum. The museum gets about 40,000 visitors a year from across the world, and many of them have no connection to the fire service. Brian sees himself as a PFD ambassador, telling stories, giving tours, and sharing his experiences. His goal is to inform the public about the proud and storied history of the Philadelphia Fire Department.

The museum would like to thank Chief Greg Masi for providing significant photographic support for this page.