Theodore Ector, one of Atlanta’s “Original 16” black firefighters of the early 1960s, says the memory of his first call is still vivid in his mind.
“I was on the floor crawling and trying to get away from the smoke and the heat. And I was like, ‘what the hell did I get myself into,’” Ector recalled. “But after that and a few other fires, you got used to it.”
Ector was one of 16 black firefighters hired by the city of Atlanta in 1963. These men, along with seven black women who would join the firefighters a decade later, are honored with a new mural. This was revealed Friday morning at Vine City Fire Station 16 where they worked.
The mural and a nearby community basketball hoop are part of a grant given to the Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation by the Atlanta Hawks and the NBA in commemoration of the league’s 75and birthday.
Current fire chief Rod Smith said those who joined the Atlanta Fire Department changed the course of history.
“We have a few of these legends with us here today and I would like to take a moment for them to stand up and be acknowledged,” Smith said. “It wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here.”
The mural features the station’s slogan “First in Courage, Last in Fear” and 23 stars commemorating these pioneering firefighters, including Battalion Chief Liz Summers.
“When they mentioned the stars and what they represent, it really brought tears to my eyes and it’s a beautiful thing and I’m grateful to be a part of it,” Summers said.
Summers and Ector were joined at the ceremony by fellow pioneers James Maddox and Louvenia Jenkins.
Hawks players John Collins and Skylar Mays attended the ceremony, as did Hall of Famer and former Hawks player Dominique Wilkins. Wilkins says Atlanta owes pioneer firefighters a debt of gratitude.
“I don’t think people like that are appreciated enough for what they’ve done,” Wilkins said. “So we must continue to support, appreciate and help build on their legacy.”
In addition to the mural, the Hawks also announced plans to be part of several Atlanta Fire Rescue youth programs.