Brampton Fire Service’s unique Black History Month fire truck

By Lincoln DePradine

BHM dedicated fire truck

A multitude of events is held to commemorate the achievements of people of descent each year during Black History Month (BHM) in February.

Michelle John, a Brampton firefighter, was looking for a unique idea to mark BHM 2023.

She suggested to her colleagues, including her Division Chief Ravjot Chhatwal, having a “Dedicated Fire Truck’’ that included on its body the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “Almost always, the creative, dedicated minority has made the world better”. 

Her idea was embraced and the decorated in-service fire truck was on display during Black History Month.

The truck also outlined the accomplishments and inventions of Black people such as George Reid. He’s recorded as the first person to use a pole in 1878 to get to the first floor of his fire station. This action resulted in the installation of fire poles in fire stations around the world.

Michelle John

There also was Joseph W. Winters, who received a patent in 1878 for his invention of the fire-escape ladder mounted on fire wagons; and Garrett Morgan who devised safety-hood smoke protection equipment in 1912.

Four years later, in 1916, Morgan made national news for using his gas mask to rescue men trapped during an explosion in an underground tunnel located 250 feet beneath Lake Erie.

“Visibility is key for the meaningful recognition of the contributions of the Black community. The dedicated fire truck serves as a reminder of those contributions and the many others, as we commit to further learning and education about the Black trailblazers who paved the way for so many,” said John, Fire/Life Safety Education Officer with Brampton Fire & Emergency Services. She’s also a member of Brampton’s Black Employee Engagement Network.

John follows in the footstep of pioneers such as Molly Williams, an enslaved woman who was the first known female – and first known Black firefighter – in the United States.

John’s initiative was commended by prominent Brampton officials, including Fire Chief Bill Boyes, and councillor Rowena Santos.

“The City of Brampton is committed to celebrating the contributions of the Black community. This is one small way in which we are doing just that. The truck serves as a stepping stone toward learning more about the people who helped shape the international fire service and their incredibly diverse backgrounds,’’ Boyes said.

The fire truck, Santos added, served as a “learning opportunity for all of us. It makes you pause and think about the resilience of the Black community and the contributions to our day-to-day lives that we may not know or recognize’’.

The presence of the trick on the road also “created many teachable moments, spurred incredible dialogue and conversation and helped us honour those who got us to where we are today’’, Santos said.