Firefighters stamping down racism is a proud moment

To all the firefighters across the country who stood up to the racial hatred in North Tonawanda, I'm proud to have you as brothers and sisters


There are times when firefighters do things that give us a sense of shared shame. There are plenty of examples of firefighters who steal money from their departments, sexually victimize someone or start fires.

However, there are many more times when firefighters do lesser-known things that make us all proud to be associated with this service. Here too, the examples are plenty. Firefighters often go above the call of duty to make sick children happy, aid victims by working on their homes and replacing clothes or toys lost to fire or theft.

Firefighters also make their brothers and sisters proud with their well-publicized acts of bravery. Saving lives in fire, medical or rescue emergencies isn't as common as TV shows would lead you to believe, but when they happen, they matter greatly to the victims and their loved ones.

And there's what could be called social bravery, where firefighters stand for what is morally right, regardless of social pressures.

Last week North Tonawanda, New York volunteer firefighter Kenneth Walker, the town's only black firefighter, received a threatening letter before his home was burned in an arson attack.

The anonymous letter told Walker that there was no place on fire departments for blacks and he should quit, or else.

It is still not clear who wrote the letter, but a former volunteer firefighter — also Walker's neighbor — confessed to setting Walker's apartment on fire. He said he didn't write the letter.

What happened next is a bit amazing.

Firefighters came to Walker's aid in a big way. His own department backed him with a fire station marquee saying as much and his fire chief appeared on local television to reiterate their support for Walker.

A white firefighter from a neighboring community who didn't know Walker set up a GoFundMe page to help his family rebuild. The page has raised $151,000.

Walker's fire department, Gratwick Hose Fire Company, has also raised money for those who want to avoid the GoFundMe fees. And firefighters in California pooled their money to pay for an all-expenses-paid vacation to Venice Beach, California.

We live in a time of horrible racial divide and it took an amount of social courage for those firefighters to do the right and noble thing by rushing to Walker's aid. What they did matters to the Walkers and the entire fire service, as it sends the message that racial hatred has no place in the fire service.

Those firefighters took a situation that brought shame to us all and turned it into a shining example of firefighter brotherhood.

And that is something we can all embrace and be proud of.

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