Five members of the Philadelphia Fire Department’s formerly segregated Engine 11 were among dozens of firefighters, paramedics and civilians honored during the annual Firefighter Recognition Day, presented by Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters on Sept. 8.
Battalion Chief Walter Lindsay and Firefighters Waldo Gentry, Lloyd Ama, Alfred Ward and Clarence Brogden all served with Engine 11 at 10th and South streets in the 1940s and early ’50s, when the company was the department’s de facto African-American unit, and other firehouses were restricted to whites.
Local 22, which represents about 1,900 active and 2,100 retired firefighters and paramedics, inaugurated the Lifetime Achievement Award to recognize the five minority retirees, who were featured in a short documentary film shown during the afternoon dinner at the union hall. Michael Feagans, the son of a deceased Engine 11 member, produced and narrated the film.
Now located at Sixth and South streets, Engine 11 was one of the original 22 companies in the city’s first municipal fire department, established in 1871, according to an article published by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on www.philaplace.org
The department hired its first African-American firefighter, Isaac Jacobs, in 1886 and assigned him to Engine 11. The second African-American firefighter, Stephen E. Presco, joined the department in 1905. As other African-Americans followed their lead, they were all stationed at Engine 11. Often, the unit’s supervisors and commanders were white. The company and fire department remained officially segregated until 1952, although true integration proceeded slowly over many years, according to the HSP article.
In the film, former Engine 11 members noted that even during the segregation period, firefighters of all backgrounds united with a single purpose when on the job, fighting fires and saving lives.
“Days like today and ceremonies like this are important to what we do, because as firefighters and paramedics, we don’t do what we do for accolades,” said Local 22 President Joe Schulle during the Sept. 8 awards banquet.
The union’s recording secretary, Mike Bresnan, presented Medal of Honor awards to the families of three fallen firefighters, Capt. Mike Goodwin, Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney. Goodwin’s son, Michael Jr., was among those accepting the award on his father’s behalf. The Parkwood resident is now a volunteer firefighter with Union Company 37 in Cornwells Heights and is studying in Bucks County to become a professional firefighter. He hopes to take the Philadelphia Fire Department test later this year.
“[These awards] just show what firefighters do every day, fight the good fight and serve the community,” Goodwin said.
Other honorees were: Bob McHugh, Brian Powers, Police Officer Bonny Lihotz and Tina Curtain (Firefighter Friends Award); Jill Overn (Media Award); John Dougherty (Union Solidarity Award); Tom Drumm (Home Association Plaque); Patrick Murphy (John “Moon” Reilly Award); Capt. Ronald Ragen, Lt. Walter Faber, Firefighters Joseph Crisanti and Krystal Moore, along with Feagans (Community Service Award);
Michael Kucowski and Michael Watson (President’s Award); Lt. John Foley, Firefighters Dave Tizol, Patrick Kling, Mike Rauch, Gary Taylor, David Webster, Mike O’Rourke and Joe Woods, along with Paramedic Colleen Snyder, Naz Gagliard, Devon Richio and Bruce Bowman (Distinguished Service Award);
Paramedics Jeffrey Schurr and Patrick Carey, along with Firefighters Daniel Tygh, Dennis McDaniels, Daniel Carrion, Jason Teszner, Joseph Russel and Jay Bosak (Heroism Award); Ed Grugan (John Redmond Award); Firefighter Larry Moore (City Council District 8 Award); Capt. Robert Wilson (City Council District 9 Award); Lt. Tony Panebianca (City Council District 10 Award). ••