African-American Firefighters in L. A.

Feb 1, 2016

African-American-Firefighters_LA_CAIn celebration of Black History Month, David Spence, LAFD Battalion Chief and Interim President of the African American Firefighter Museum, will present a program at the Pasadena Museum of History on February 9, about the history of African American firefighters in the Los Angeles area.

Chief Spence will take us back to the late 1800s and cover the days when fire stations were segregated through their transformation into the desegregated fire departments of today.

Tickets are free and include entrance to the exhibition galleries. Now on view, “Fabulous Fashion – Decades of Change: 1890s, 1920s, & 1950s,” starting at 6:00 pm.




African-American Firefighters in Los Angeles
Tuesday, Feb. 9th, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
PMH, 470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena 91103
Free event, free parking in museum lot or on Walnut St.
Reserve tickets:
For more info, visit PasadenaHistory/event/African-American-firefighters

Photo, top right: Engine no. 30, circa 1947. (L-to-R): Fireman Billl Cotterell, Capt. James Akers, Fireman Sanford Jones and Fireman Herb Spragin. This photo can be seen on display downstairs at the African American Firefighter Museum.


Engine no. 30; photo, AAFF Museum

Engine no. 30; photo, AAFF Museum


Items from the African-American Firefighter Museum website (found at

Museum Historian Arnett Hartsfield, also known as “The Rookie,” expressed, “I complained about being segregated. When I was integrated, they called it integration, I called it isolation.”

Entering the African American Firefighter Museum, located across the street from the historic Coca Cola Building on South Central Avenue in Los Angeles, California, is like taking a step back in time. The museum is located at the historic Fire Station #30, which was one of two segregated firehouses in Los Angeles between 1924 and 1955.

Former Museum President and Fire Captain, Brent Burton, shared numerous stories of African American firefighters while taking FDNNTV on a tour of the museum’s displays. “When the fire department integrated, blacks were forced to sleep in the same bed, in the same location, (while) the other black firefighter on the other shift, slept in the same bed. White firefighters refused to sleep in the same beds that black firefighters had slept in,” Burton explained.

According to Brent Burton, prior to building Belmont High School in Belmont, California in 1924, the city was a very deserted place. However, when the school was built, the department, community and school district became concerned about school children looking at African American firefighters in positions of authority; therefore, they relocated the African American firefighters to Station #30.

In 1936, the LAFD opened Station #14 at 34th street and Central to blacks.  Making it the second station that blacks could be assigned to.


Chief Spence

Chief Spence


David Spence (text courtesy of AAFFM):

David L. Spence has been a member of the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) for 28 years. He has held the ranks of Firefighter, Firefighter/Paramedic, Fire Inspector, Fire Captain I, Paramedic Captain, Fire Captain II and Battalion Chief.

David began his career with the LAFD in 1986 serving the San Fernando Valley area and would not directly work with an African American officer for his first four years as a firefighter. This experience made it clearly apparent that there should be more awareness and presence of African American firefighters for future generations especially at the various officer levels. David learned of an organization for African American firefighters and soon became deeply committed and involved with the Stentorians, The Association of African Americans in the Fire Service which is dedicated to such awareness. David served on the Executive Board of the Stentorians, followed by two terms as President. His involvement was instrumental in several accomplishments during his tenure as President of the Stentorians including serving as a founding member of the African American Firefighter Museum in 1997.


For more reference, visit The African-American Firefighter Museum at


African-American Firefighter Museum; photo source,

African-American Firefighter Museum; photo source,



1 Response for “African-American Firefighters in L. A.”

  1. […] keynote speaker at the Black History Celebration was (LAFD) Battalion Chief David L. Spence.  Chief Spence is also Interim President of The African American Firefighter Museum.   He read from […]



Flintridge Books

Lyd and Mo Photography

Louis Jane Studios

Homage Pasadena