Preston Culver with the Austin Fire Department photography department created a great video paying tribute to the first African American firefighting trailblazers in the State of Texas. In September, 1952, Willie Ray Davis, Nat Kindred, and Roy Greene were hired by the Austin Fire Department. Marvin Douglas, hired just a few months later, is featured in the video and is the oldest surviving member of this first wave of black firefighters hired 12 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. During this era of segregation, all of the initial black firefighters were assigned to Old Fire Station 5.
Truck 2, a 1928 American LaFrance tillered aerial ladder truck parked in front of the newly built Fire Station 2 around 1932.
Old Truck 2 on display at the 2012 Temple, TX Early Days and Tractor Show. Don Reynolds, a firefighter with the Henderson, TX Fire Department, has been in the process of restoring Old Truck 2 for the past several years. He has restored the truck to running condition and displays it at several events per year in the Central/East Texas area. Old Truck 2 will be on display again on November 10, 2012 for this year’s Heritage Syrup Festival in Henderson, TX.
In 1952, the Austin Fire Department hired the first paid, African American firefighters in the State of Texas (Willie Ray Davis, Nathanial Kindred, and Roy Greene). The decision was made to assign all of them at Old Fire Station #5 at 1005 Lydia Street. At that time, the Austin Fire Department had only two shifts, A and B, working 24hrs on and 24hrs off. In 1953, the A-shift at Old Fire Station #5 comprised of Captain Victor Eugene Tiemann, Driver William Walsh, and Firefighter Willie Ray Davis and Marvin Douglas. Capt. Tiemann was never far from his 8mm movie camera and decided to make his own short movie about his crew which would feature a day in the life of an Austin Firefighter.
The movie begins with checking out their 1943 Seagrave 750 GPM pumper at shift change. Next, they train a little on raising a ladder to the station and street school on the front porch. Of course, their day is interrupted by a fire and you see them respond down the streets of East Austin in the early 50′s. When the truck backs into the station around the 4:44 mark, pay close attention to the left side of the engine. You’ll see their firehouse dog, affectionately named “5′s”, run off the truck as it backs in to the station. The stereotype is true, firehouse dogs used to ride on the trucks! Next, you’ll see the crew head down to the Buford Fire Training tower for some training. Back to the station they’ll go to register the neighborhood kids’ bikes with serial numbers as the kids play football on their front lawn. The movie ends with a little horseplay as the firefighters trick the new rookie into serving them their food. Watch until the end of the movie to see two additional short scenes not seen in the original of the guys doing some additional ladder training and playing ping pong.
The passing of Retired Lieutenant William Walsh on May 11, 2012 was a sad day for the Austin Fire Museum. Mr. Walsh was one of the first retired firefighters we interviewed when organizing the Austin Fire Museum almost 10 years ago. Mr. Walsh was already well into his 80′s and suffering from the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but like many Alzheimer’s patients, if you asked the right question you could open a window into the past and a flood of information might follow. Although Mr. Walsh’s short term memory had deteriorated, he spoke of his firefighting days as they were yesterday.
As Mr. Walsh arrived at the Austin Fire Museum’s grand opening in 2005, he slowly walked through the truck bays of Central Fire Station #1 (where the museum is located) paused at one of the fire poles, and commented, “One fire, I slide down that pole so fast I landed right on top of Chief Dagger Dickerson. Man, was he hot about that!” Mr. Walsh also remarked that he’d rather fight a fire than eat a really good meal. Mr. Walsh was known as a maverick, often marching to the beat of his own drum. Mr. Walsh is usually pretty easy to spot in pictures because he’s the one wearing sneakers when the rest of the crew is wearing leather shoes. Mr. Walsh’s obituary can be seen here.