Atlanta Hawks, NBA honor pioneering firefighters with new mural

Fire Station 16
A mural honoring Atlanta's first Black firefighters was unveiled Friday morning at Fire Station 16 in Vine City. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

Theodore Ector, one of Atlanta’s “Original 16” Black firefighters from the early 1960s, says the memory of his first call is still vivid in his mind.

“I was on the floor crawling and trying to get out of the smoke and the heat. And I was wondering, ‘what in the hell have I gotten myself into,’” Ector recalled. “But after that and a few more fires, you got used to it.”

Ector was one of 16 Black firefighters hired by the city of Atlanta in 1963. Those men, along with seven Black women who would join the fire department a decade later, are being honored with a new mural. It was revealed Friday morning at Fire Station 16 in Vine City where they worked.

The mural and a community basketball hoop nearby are part of a grant awarded to the Atlanta Fire Rescue Foundation by the Atlanta Hawks and the NBA in commemoration of the league’s 75th anniversary.

Current fire chief Rod Smith said those who integrated the Atlanta Fire Department changed the course of history.

“We have a few of those legends with us here today and I would like to take a moment for them to stand and to be recognized,” Smith said. “It was not for you, I would not be standing here.”

The mural features the station’s slogan “First in Courage, Last in Fear” and 23 stars commemorating those trailblazing firefighters, including battalion chief Liz Summers.

“When they mentioned the stars and what the stars represent, it truly brought tears to my eyes and it’s a beautiful thing and I’m grateful to be a part of it,” said Summers.

Summers and Ector were joined at the ceremony by fellow trailblazers James Maddox and Louvenia Jenkins.

Fire Station 16
A community basketball hoop was installed at Fire Station 16 as part of a mural honoring Atlanta’s first Black firefighters (Emil Moffatt/WABE News)

Hawks’ players John Collins and Skylar Mays attended the ceremony as did Hall of Famer and former Hawks player Dominique Wilkins. Wilkins says Atlanta owes the pioneering firefighters a debt of gratitude.

“I don’t think people like that are appreciated enough for what they have done,” said Wilkins. “So we have to continue to support and appreciate and help build on their legacy.”

In addition to the mural, the Hawks also announced plans to be a part of several Atlanta Fire Rescue youth programs.