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Federal funding helps restore historic Atlanta firehouse

Atlanta’s Fire Station 16 was home to the city’s first Black firefighters


November 13, 1987 Atlanta: Atlanta Fire department’s first African American woman fire apparatus operator, Emma Morris behind the wheel in metro Atlanta, Georgia on November 13, 1987.

John Spink /

By Riley Bunch
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — Outside of Fire Station 16 on Joseph E. Boone Boulevard, a historic plaque tells the important story behind Atlanta’s first Black firefighters.

During the Civil Rights movement, it says, Black communities pressed Mayor Ivan Allen to integrate Atlanta’s fire rescue department. Their efforts came to fruition in 1962, when Allen OK’d the hiring of the city’s first group of Black firefighters who, after training, found a home at Fire Station 16 and served the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods.

Now, Atlanta’s historic fire station on the west side is getting a long-overdue makeover with the help of $500,000 in federal funding.

The allocation, spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, is the first-ever federal investment of its kind to the Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation — the nonprofit that advocates for the needs of the city’s firefighters.

“We like to say that Atlanta influences everything — but this is the start of it,” Williams said at the station Monday. “We have a very historic civil rights history here, we have to make sure that we’re continuing to invest in what we have here in this rich history.

“And that means making sure that we’re not just commemorating the past, but we’re also looking towards the future.”

Atlanta’s fire leaders have been sounding alarms about the city’s rundown stations and pervasive equipment problems that have left many trucks out of service. Fire Station 16′s renovations come on the heels of two big investments for the department: a new fire station and 9-1-1 emergency hub on the southwest side of the city. Both are part of a larger effort to ease wait times.

The “funding announcement is a major milestone for our organization and for public safety as we continue to support the personal and professional lives of the brave men and women of Atlanta Fire Rescue,” said Taos Wynn, President & CEO, of Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation.

The foundation said Tuesday that the planning process for renovations will begin within the next two weeks, with construction scheduled to take place this year. Those repairs include new gender-neutral bathrooms — firefighters at the station today are still using the same facilities that were built in the 1960s.

“The intent will be to minimize any and all impact on station services due to the tremendous value the station provides residents in the community,” a spokesperson for the foundation said about potential impacts on the station’s ability to answer calls while the upgrades are being made.

Station 16’s historical impact neither began nor ended with the first group of Black male firefighters. The building itself is located the former home of Theodore “Tiger” Flowers, the first Black World Middleweight Boxing Champion.

And it also housed the city’s first Black female firefighters hired by Mayor Maynard Jackson in 1977.

Atlanta Fire Rescue Department Chief Roderick Smith said the investment in Fire Station 16 is both intended to serve the city’s fire teams today, but also honor trailblazers in the field.

“This investment not only provides facility upgrades and modernization, it contributes to the legacy of those who came before us,” he said.

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