Black History Month: Group Of New Jersey Firefighters Breaking Barriers, Bridging Gaps

CBS2's Lisa Rozner introduces you to a group of New Jersey firefighters who are breaking barriers and bridging gaps, not just on the front lines but for countless hours in their community.

Video Transcript

- February is Black History Month. And tonight, we're introducing you to a group of New Jersey firefighters. They are breaking barriers and bridging gaps, not just on the front lines, but for countless hours in their community. CBS 2'S Lisa Rozner reports from Passaic County.

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LISA ROZNER: Without hesitation, firefighters Rashawn Davis and Janice Miller gear up for whatever the emergency. They've both been a part of the Paterson Fire Department for around 15 years. Today, they are part of the roughly 20% of firefighters of color that make up the Paterson Fire Department, a number that has slowly climbed from 1980, when Larry Franklin joined and was just one of four black firefighters.

LARRY FRANKLIN: It was daunting in the fact that it was in a city of Paterson where the population was approximately 180,000 people then. And of those 180,000 people, 85% were people of color.

LISA ROZNER: Shortly after, a consent decree meant the city needed to hire more minorities to reflect the population. But Franklin said most minorities were afraid of the risks of firefighting. He eventually became the city's first Black fire captain, something he prepared for with the help of nearby chapters of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters.

His mentor, the department's first Black firefighter, Henry Harris, spearheaded forming the local chapter known today as the Bronze Heat.

HENRY HARRIS: I tell people all the time, this is the second-best job in the world. When you find the first best, let me know.

- It's important for us to allow our community to see that they are, you know, other members in the community that are like them.

LISA ROZNER: The goal for the Bronze Heat is to show members in the community that they aren't just here to fight fires, but also, they're here as helpers. From escorting Santa to deliver free holiday toys to kids, to hosting a free seafood cookout, to beautifying a park honoring Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic visit to Paterson.

JANICE MILLER: Whether they need encouragement on education, whether it's personal issues, you know, we're here for you.

LISA ROZNER: Plaques honoring Franklin and Harris are right at the front of their home fire trucks. It's their strength that prompted the Bronze Heat to come together and make the community around them even stronger. In Paterson, New Jersey, Lisa Rozner, CBS 2 News.