By Lisa Rozner
PATERSON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – Our coverage of Black History Month continues, and we are introducing you to a group of New Jersey firefighters breaking barriers and bridging gaps not just on the front lines but every day in their community.
As CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reports, without hesitation firefighters Roshawn Davis and Janice Miller gear up for whatever the emergency. They’ve both been part of the Paterson Fire Department for around 15 years.
They are now part of the roughly 20% of firefighters of color that make up the Paterson Fire Department, a number that has climbed from 1980 when Larry Franklin joined and was just one of four Black firefighters in the department.
“It was daunting in the fact that it was in a city where the city of Paterson, where the population was approximately 180,000 people, and of those 180,000 people, 85% were people of color,” saida Franklin, who has since retired.
Shortly after, a consent decree meant the city needed to hire more minorities to reflect the population, but Franklin said most minorities were afraid of the risks of firefighting.
Franklin eventually became the city’s first Black fire captain, something he prepared for with the help of nearby chapters of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters.
His mentor, the department’s first Black firefighter Henry Harris, spearheaded forming the local chapter, known today as the Bronze Heat.
“I tell people all the time this is the second best job in the world – when you find the first best, let me know,” Dickson said.
“It’s important for us to allow our community to see that there are other members in the community that are like them,” said firefighter Herman Irving.
The goal for the Bronze Heat is to show members in the community that they aren’t just there to fight fires, but also they’re here as helpers. From escorting Santa to deliver free holiday toys to kids to hosting a free seafood cookout to beautifying a park honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historic visit to Paterson.
“Whether they need encouragement on education, whether it’s a personal issue, we’re here for you,” Miller said.
Plaques honoring Harris and Franklin are right at the front of their home firetrucks. It’s strength they get from coming together that makes the Bronze Heat stronger and radiates to those around them.