In Memoriam Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Harold Hairston

     On Nov. 1, Philadelphia lost Harold B. Hairston, age 76, the city’s first African-American Fire Commissioner. Hairston will be remembered as a loyal friend, a faithful husband of 41 years, a caring father to three children and a dedicated civil hero. His career in firefighting lasted for 40 years, and as Fire Commissioner he was in charge of the country’s fifth-largest fire department, employing roughly 2,500 people. He was appointed head of the department in 1992 before retiring in 2004. In 2003, Hairston was named Fire Chief of the Year by the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs, as well as Fire Official of the Year by the National Fire and Burglar Alarm Association. During his time of leadership “fire deaths declined, and the average response time improved.” It is also noted that before serving as a firefighter, Hairston spent three years in the U. S. Army, part of which time he was assigned to West Point as a weapons instructor. His entire life was spent as a gift to the community in which he found himself. There was debate over some of his management style choices, but the overwhelming response to his work has been positive.

     His friends and coworkers, when asked to speak to his life, could not have sung his praises any louder. His best friend, Eugene Turnipseed, remarks, “He never outgrew me, and he never forgot who his friends were.” He was a man of his word who was dedicated to the well-being of those around him. Known as a “cornerstone,” Hairston’s character was inviting, and his smile was warm. He was encouraging and abundantly loyal. Friends say that he never let rank get in the way of being a dedicated friend. Along with these accolades, he has been called a “pioneer” by the African-American community, as he paved the way for many others to serve their communities in similar ways.

     Philadelphia lost an extraordinary citizen; may he never be forgotten. Mayor Jim Kenney remarks about Hairston’s legacy and character, “I am deeply saddened by the news of Commissioner Hairston’s passing. He was a dedicated firefighter and an outstanding commissioner; he left a lasting impact on the department and our city.”


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