Daily News Reporter, Ginger Adams Otis, recently released her book Firefight: The Century Long Battle to Integrate New York’s Bravest, a comprehensive historical account of the long fight for racial equality in the New York City Fire Department. This impressive specimen of labor-reporting is replete with more protagonists, antagonists, heroes and villains, subplots, twists and turns than a Robert Ludlum thriller, except it’s all true!
Daily News Reporter Ginger Adams Otis has a long pedigree as a labor reporter with stints at the Chief, the NY Post and several years tenure as the Communications Director of the New York City Central Labor Council working with Vinny Alvarez, Otis has long been a keen observer of the history of the FDNY and of African American firefighters’ tireless activism. She describes how the Vulcan Society of Black Firefighters has taken both an advocate and activist role. Although there has long been a lack of diversity in the FDNY, Otis debunks the myth that this contemporary problem stems from racism amongst firefighters. Rather, she shows its genesis arose from the failure of administrators to be pro-active from recruitment along the lines suggested by union leaders, such as Steve Cassidy, to ignoring critical flaws in the testing of prospective fire recruits.
While Ms. Otis tips her hat to the camaraderie and mutual respect demonstrated by today NYC firefighters, and progressive thinking leaders of the both the UFA and UFOA, she also examines in depth the significant role as both a Firefighter and a leader, played by Wesley Williams, the third black man to join the department and the first to serve as an active duty firefighter, and later a Battalion Chief. Williams, who joined the force in 1919, faced blatent discrimination but, did his job and prevailed; quickly rising through the ranks. By time he was serving as a Battalion Chief in 1940, forty black men were then amongst the ranks of New York’s Bravest, He suggested they organize and the Vulcan society was born. (Vulcansocietyfdny.org). The rest, as they say, is history!