Baltimore City Fire Departmentby Senator Nancy Pelosi
Posted on 2013-01-25
in the house of representatives
Friday, January 25, 2013
Ms. PELOSI. Mr. Speaker, 45 years ago, history was made in the City
of Baltimore. On January 23, 1968, Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III--my
brother--watched over the swearing-in of his appointee, Reverend Marion
Bascom Jr., as the Baltimore City Fire Department's first African-
Alongside his colleague and partner in the cause of equality, Konstantine Prevas, Commissioner Bascom took the oath of office. In a single act, he changed the face of the city's public servants and heroes--becoming, in his words, ``the first black man to wear a white hat in the Baltimore City Fire Department.'' In a single moment, he altered the course of local history. In the years to come, he and his fellow members of the Board of Fire Commissioners would do more than become a model of racial harmony; they would advance the professionalism and effectiveness of Baltimore's firefighters.
Though progress was slow at times--though a history of segregation and bigotry and racism still weighed heavily on the shoulders of Commissioners Bascom and Prevas and others--these leaders fought, step- by-step, to ensure that Baltimore's force of firefighters would exemplify our highest ideals of equality and our highest degree of excellence.
Under the leadership of Commissioners Bascom and Prevas, the Baltimore City Fire Department gave African-American members of its ranks a fair hearing--listening and responding to their concerns about living and working conditions, and unfair treatment in areas of discipline, assignments, training, and promotions. It formally recognized the Vulcan Blazers, Baltimore's chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters.
To enhance its service to the city, the department expanded community outreach efforts and helped create a new unit in the City Hospital to deal strictly and exclusively with fire victims and their injuries--and today, City Hospital still stands as the first and only burn center in the state of Maryland.
The Board of Commissioners oversaw the land acquisition, zoning, historic preservation, and construction of what's now called Steadman Station--located in the heart of downtown Baltimore and once considered the busiest station in the nation.
Today, the Baltimore City Fire Department is defined by the legacy of Commissioner Bascom: by fairness, equal rights, professional action, and a wholehearted devotion to public safety. No longer beset by racist policies; no longer held back by the scourge of segregation; no longer deterred by a past of Jim Crow--all because a mayor had the vision to appoint commissioners based on their merits, not simply their race, and all because his appointees had the courage to promote a future of progress.
Our family takes pride in its association with this extraordinary era of history for the people of Baltimore. My father, Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., oversaw the desegregation of the fire department. My brother appointed its first African-American Commissioner. Together, they created a department that reflected the diversity and character of the community it served and protected.
Today, 45 years after Commissioner Bascom took his oath, we can all be proud of this legacy. We can take inspiration from the acts of our predecessors. We can pledge to advance our heritage of opportunity, our commitment to fairness and justice, and our promise of equality for all.