September 21, 2023

From Shoemaker to Fire Chief

CSU is proud to pay tribute to several African Americans who were innovators and made significant contributions in their fields during Black History Month. These men and women who were pioneers in fire service, law enforcement, armed services and the business world helped paved the way for many.

To kick off Black History month, we are honored to shine the spotlight on America’s first African-American fire chief. The oldest documents identifying government sanctioned African American firefighters were found in New Orleans. A fire in July 1817 led the governing body to organize its people to avoid another conflagration. All draymen and their equipment as well as individual African American free men and slaves were recruited to aid in the efforts.

Patrick H. Raymond, the first African-American fire chief in U.S.
Born in Philadelphia in 1831, Patrick Raymond was the son of the Rev. John and Susan Raymond. His father, a runaway slave from Virginia who became a well-known abolitionist in New York City, was one of the early pastors of the African Meeting House in Boston.

About 1847, the Raymond family moved to Cambridge. Raymond worked as a shoemaker before becoming a journalist at the Boston Herald and the blackfirechiefBoston Advertiser. He and his brother joined the Navy in 1862. In 1864, Raymond returned to Cambridge, and in 1869 became the editor of the Cambridge Press. In 1871, Mayor Hamlin Harding appointed him chief engineer of the Cambridge Fire Department.

During his tenure, Raymond said the Cambridge Fire Department could be improved by employing full time firefighters rather than relying on volunteers and set out to do that. Over the next seven years, he was able to triple the annual budget of the department, creating two new fire companies and building new firehouses. Raymond was also a member of the National Association of Fire Engineers and was recording secretary from 1873-77.

After Raymond was replaced as chief in 1878, he continued to work at the Cambridge Press until 1890. He died in July 1892.

Engine Company #5 in Inman Square was organized on 1874 and was named “Patrick H. Raymond Steam Engine Company No. 5 in honor of him. The company is still in service today honoring the first African-American fire chief in the U.S.

Source: The Cambridge Room, Cambridge (Mass.) Public Library

Farmer, Frontiersman, and Federal Marshal