Lexington’s Black Firemen: Doing Much More Than The Job Requires

By Patrice K. Muhammad, Editor/Photo: Amanda Gerton

As men who are visible within the community, Lexington’s Black firemen are often individually asked to speak before local students or to make donations. According to Lieutenant (Lt.) Lee Hayden, the Black firemen organized so that they could pool their funds and energy to accommodate the requests of the community and also to support each other as they work this potentially life-threatening job.

The group decided to be named, Lexington Professional Black Firefighters (LPBF). Their mission statement says in part, “Our organization relies on volunteer efforts to provide public awareness, promote higher learning through education, recruitment and charitable services to make a significant difference.”

Lt. Hayden said that there are 31 Black firefighters within the Lexington Fire Department and 18 are members of the LPBF.

The group acts primarily as a social organization, providing fellowship for the Black firemen. Fireman Greg Gerton said, “I personally feel that being a part of this organization has been a blessing. It has given me the opportunity to provide stewardship to our youth as a positive role model and mentor at a time when kids can be misled in so many negative directions. The friendship and fellowship such as worshiping once a month together, family picnics and outside training have allowed a bond to grow beyond work and allows us to lean on one another during the difficult and stressful times that come with being a firefighter.”

Lt. Hayden is very proud of fellow Black firefighter Keith Jackson’s appointment as Interim Fire Chief .  Hayden said, “It’s great motivation for the children in the area to see a Black fire chief. We are proud that he is qualified as well as Black.  I’d like to see him as the permanent chief if that is his wish. He is experienced as well and knowledgeable.”

Several years ago there was a chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters that was very active in the community. Lt Hayden said that Interim Chief Jackson was a member of that group and has been a mentor to this new group as they begin organizing. Hayden said, “We have tried to emulate some of what they did.”

As individuals and as a group the men have made many contributions to the community including being coaches of local youth sports teams, speaking at school and church career day programs, speaking with youth at the state juvenile detention center, providing Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners for local families and helping with the annual toy drive.

However, there is one contribution that Gerton is especially proud of.  He said, “Providing scholarships in conjunction with Black Achievers to our youth, one male and one female (in honor of the late Lt. Brenda Cowan) going into public safety is the most rewarding of our efforts. It is helping further a child’s education and it recognizes the ultimate sacrifice Lt. Brenda Cowan made for our department and our community.”

Lt. Cowan was Lexington’s first and only Black female firefighter. When she was shot and killed in 2004, she became the first Black female firefighter to ever die in the line of duty in the U.S.

The men of LBPF have chosen not to elect a leader or officers. The men are just working together as a unit to provide an example to local youth and support one another.