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CHICAGO — The Black Fire Brigade is all about channeling young Black men and women in the right direction and launching their careers in the fire service that pays dividends financially and personally.

Formed back in 2018, the Black Fire Brigade has helped close to 450 students to get jobs in the fire service field. They also have a social club on 84th Street and Kedzie Avenue. Coming up soon, they will break ground on a new state-of-the art location.

It once was known as Engine 61. Today, situated at 53rd Street and Wabash Avenue, it houses the Chicago African American Firefighters Museum. And while it is steeped in honoring the first African Americans that came on the Chicago Fire Department 150 years ago, it’s present-day mission is training the firefighters and paramedics of tomorrow.

Enrollees range in age from 18 to 30.

Javar Murphy, who experienced homelessness not that long ago, is part of the current class. As a child, around 7 or 8, he and his cousins survived a fire.

“I would like to be a fighter fire because of additional trauma,” he said. “I’ve experienced things in my life where my uncles trailer burned down to the ground. We crawled out of the small windows.”

He now works in the medical field.

He and the others at the Firefighters Museum get EMT and firefighter training under the direction of Lt. Quention Curtis, president and founder of the Black Fire Brigade but he is simply known as Lieutenant Q, a CFD veteran.

Dec. 22, 1872 was when the first Black firefighters started in the CFD.

Presently, the objective is two-fold: get at-risk young Black men and women positive direction and along the way increase the numbers within the active duty ranks of minorities including women on the Chicago Fire Department.

“We take the kids off the street,” Curtis said “We bring inside this organization and we teach them how to become first responders. Our motto is if you teach a kid to save a life, they’ll be less likely to take one.”

During his 34 years on the job, Lt. Q has been assigned to just about every smokey, gritty and icy detail on the CFD. 

“There’s always going to be push back until we make those final changes,” Lt. Q said. “You got to remember in 1872 Engine 21 was the first all-Black fire house but when you look at their history they were the busiest fast as they made more rescues than any companies in the city of Chicago.”

In November, he will retire and dedicate himself full time to this cause, and this place and increasing the number of African Americans within the CFD.

“People say crime, what are we going to do?” Lt. Q said. “We can change crime if we change the economic platform in the Black community. We’re not going to incarcerate ourselves out of this.”

So when they leave here, these young men and women will be ready, willing and able like Gabray Carter.

“Initially I wanted to be a Chicago police officer but I think it’ll be more effective if I’m on the ambulance side, fire department side,” Carter said.

The next generation is ready to make a career of public service to us like Ryan Blackmon whose father Eugene Blackmon Jr. died in the line of duty in a rescue attempt in the Little Calumet River in May 1998.