February is Black History Month. This commemoration gives the department an opportunity to reflect on its diversity and highlight the positive contributions of the African-American firefighters who have served.

Like all of the firefighters who have served the City of Madison, African Americans have shaped the department’s past, present, and future.

The first African-American firefighters were hired in 1974. Six years later, a historic class of 31 recruits that included seven African-American men was hired.

One of those firefighters, Robert Hansbro, continues to serve today as a Lieutenant at Station 9, B shift, on Midvale Blvd.

Isaiah Goines, Robert Hansbro, and Sam Hodof

While Lt. Hansbro and his classmates’ leadership has influenced all members of the department, their contributions were particularly felt in several leadership positions throughout the organization.

The first African American promoted to Lieutenant was Hubert McKenzie (retired) in 1988.

Arthur Dinkins III (retired) was promoted to Division Chief in 1994 and to Assistant Chief in 2002.

In 1991, the first African-American female firefighter, Katherine “Kat” Jackson (retired), was hired.

MFD Lieutenant Mahlon Mitchell assumed office as the first African-American president of the Fire Fighters Local 311 union in March 2014.

Mahlon Mitchell (left) and Johnny Winston Jr.

Two years ago, the second African-American woman hired by the department, Tracy Burrus, was promoted to Division Chief.

While we know Chief Burrus is the first African-American woman promoted to Division Chief in the department’s history, we believe that she is the only African-American woman to be promoted to Chief Officer in the history of the state of Wisconsin.

As we celebrate the history and accomplishments of African-American firefighters, we continue to develop initiatives that ensure we maintain of our diversity in the future.

The MFD has formed a partnership with Madison College for a mentoring program that will have students join us for ride-alongs and job shadowing opportunities.

Additionally, the department remains involved in the City’s Affirmative Action Student Professionals In Residence (AASPIRE) internship program for college students, and the Wanda Fullmore Internship program for high school students.

The MFD has also been a collaborator with the Girl Scouts’ CampHERO, the YMCA, and The Boys & Girls Club of Dane County on past and future programs that introduce women and people of color to the professions of firefighting and EMS.

Black History Month is a great time to take stock of our rich and diverse history.

We are proud to have African Americans represented in many areas of the department – from Chief Officers to lieutenants, apparatus engineers, paramedics, and firefighters.

The Sable Flames, an organization of the Madison Fire Department’s African-American firefighters, will celebrate their 25th anniversary with the annual Second Alarm Benefit Dance and banquet at the Concourse Hotel in downtown Madison on Feb. 24. It’s a great time to reflect upon and to salute the African-American firefighters who paved the way for our department to be a reflection of the community it serves.

Written by Johnny Winston Jr.

Johnny Winston Jr.

Johnny Winston, Jr. has been a member of the City of Madison Fire Department since 1996. He was promoted to Division Chief of Organization and Community Liaison in February 2015.