“First in courage, last in fear,” are the words imprinted upon the wall of Fire Station 16, located in Atlanta’s district 4. Fire Station 16 is the home of the Magnificent Seven and 116th Fire Division, the first Black firefighters in the city of Atlanta. 

The origin of the unit came after members of District 4 and the larger Atlanta community pressured lawmakers and city officials to integrate the Atlanta Fire Department. Then in 1962, Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen authorized the hiring of sixteen Black firefighters and on April 1st, 1963 after completing training the first Black firemen in the city’s history went to work.

Atlanta’s first Black firefighters started work April 1, 1963, at Fire Station 16. The station was on Marietta Street at the time, and later was moved to a new facility built along the former Simpson Road, now Joseph E. Boone Boulevard. Credit: City of Atlanta

On March 31, 2023,  the 116th fire division was honored with a 60th anniversary luncheon, honoring the integration of the Atlanta Fire Department.

“Today represents the anniversary of our big dive as a city into diversity, equity, and inclusion. Today is the anniversary of the hiring of the 116th for the city of Atlanta. They set the example of what equity was in the fire department and they paved the road for many of us that came behind them, “said current Atlanta Fire Chief, Rodrick Smith to The Atlanta Voice.

“We the members of the Atlanta city council proclaim this day as William H. Hamer day,” district 3, Atlanta city councilman, Michael Julian Bond said.

William H. Hamer was the first Black fire chief and a member of the 116th and then later made history as Atlanta’s first Black fire chief. 

“Today means everything. Anytime I can come back to my home, I will take it. I started here and I retired here. We were so excited to be on the fire department working for the city of Atlanta. We overlooked all the mishaps and hardship that we had gone through, but it is wonderful to be here again. I started here and I retired here,” Hamer said.

Ceelo Green (left) has a personal stake in Fire Station 116. The hip-hop and R&B superstar’s late mother was a member of the station.
Photo by Noah Washington/The Atlanta Voice

In a morning full of Atlanta history, history of a different kind came through the door, as Thomas DeCarlo Callaway-Burton,  more famously known as “Ceelo Green” joined the festivities to pay homage to his mother, Sheila J. Tyler-Callaway. 

Callaway was a member of the Magnificent Seven and was later paralyzed in a car crash and died two years later in 1992. 

“I’m at a loss of words, I’m so proud for this to be the reality and my life story coming from such a wonderful woman,” Callaway-Burton said to The Atlanta Voice

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens was also in attendance with multiple members of Atlanta’s policymakers and politicians.

“These 16 men had the pressure of being the first in a group of all white firefighters and I applaud you all for doing that,” Dickens said.

Atlanta’s first female African American firefighters started work in 1977, when Maynard Jackson served as mayor. Credit: City of Atlanta