Black History: The African-American Firefighters Museum

The African-American Firefighters Museum in Los Angeles is the only museum that preserves the legacy of America’s pioneer black firefighters. These are men like Sam Haskins, the first black fireman in the Los Angeles Fire Department, who served for three years then died in a boiler accident in 1895. Also among the list of firefighters were many former Tuskegee Airmen.

The museum’s curator is Arnett “The Rookie” Hartsfield. He is 92 years old and was one of the first black firefighters in the LAFD. Hartsfield was among the group of forerunners called the Stentorians. Though he and others faced extreme discrimination, according to Hartsfield, no one quit their job.

The museum, which is Fire Station #30 on Central Avenue, holds the many stories of racism that firefighters endured.

When the fire houses were integrated in 1955, the African-American firefighters were forced to sleep in the same beds because the whites refused to sleep in the same location as blacks. The men were also forced out of the station kitchens when white firefighters entered and were required to bring their own cooking utensils, pots and pans. The sign posted read “Colored served in rear.” Many times, they weren’t allowed to speak to their fellow white fighters, and if they put their food in the refrigerator, it was destined to be contaminated. In one instance, white fighters took the pillowcase of a new black fireman named Ernie Roberts to the bathroom and used it as toilet paper, then returned it to his bed and turned out the lights.

The African-American Firefighters Museum opened its doors in 1997 and is now lead by black fireman Brent Burton. Inside the museum lies a memorial tribute to the firefighters that perished during the 9/11 attacks. The museum also honors female firefighters who continue to make their mark in history.

The stories of America’s black firefighters are told in a documentary film by Trevor Hansford called “Ashlands” and in a DVD series called “Engine Company X.”

For more information on the African American Firefighters Museum, please visit


2 Comments on "Black History: The African-American Firefighters Museum"

  1. V M Mickle Jun 28, 2011 · 9:26 am

    My Grandfather was Captain in the Omaha Nebraska Fire Department. He was a member of the from 1906 – 1933 and retired as a Captain. His son was Richard (Dick) Greer served as a volunteer firefighter in the 1950′s. How do I see that their memory is preserved in Black history? As I understand it my Grandfather was the first Black Fire Captain in Nebraska. I can find no mention of him in Nebreaska, but have his Badge, his Pension card and his Omaha Retired Firemen Association card

    • Joe Hodges Jan 17, 2012 · 8:31 am

      What is your Grandfather’s name.
      Contact me and I can assist you in preserving his legacy. I am currently working on a project to display a history of the Omaha Black Firefighters

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