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Union County Fire Academy 2016 Graduation Keynote Speech by Battalion Chief John Alston of the Jersey City Fire Department. Subject: “What is Past is Prologue”.
Special thanks to my Union County Academy Family for the invitation to address the graduates; my esteemed honor and privilege to do so.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.William Ernest Henley
Julius, born in New York in 1927, was the younger brother of Reginald Julius, who also became a firefighter.
The two men, both WWII veterans who served overseas — Reginald in the Navy and Vincent in the Army — were among just a handful of black firefighters who served in the city’s outer boroughs during the unrest of the 1960s and ‘70s.
Julius became a captain of Ladder 112 in Bushwick in the late ‘70s, where fires bigger than three alarms were called a “Bushwick Sunrise.” He retired in Feb. 1985 after a distinguished career.
Julius decided to become a city firefighter after receiving an honorable discharge from the Army as a Staff Sgt. in 1946.
He applied at a time when black firefighters were still scarce — numbering around 50 out of a force of more than 6,000.
Julius joined the Vulcan Society, the association of black firefighters that exists today.
He fought for more inclusion for black firefighters — who at times were ostracized by colleagues to sleep in “black beds” in the firehouses.
Julius was profiled as part of a 2002 book, “So Others Might Live,” detailing the extensive history of the FDNY.
“It’s all about ordinary people who have found a calling over and above what the average person does,” Julius told author Terry Golway.
“You go into a burning building, down a hallway, you see what we call the red demon, and that red demon’s fingers are reaching out for you, and they’re saying, ‘C’mon. C’mon. I’ve got something for you. C’mon.’ And you put your head down and you keep moving,” he said in the book.
Julius lived his life as he fought fires — with an eye always turned toward progress.
He was an active and vocal member of the Vulcan Society and served as president of the organization in the 1970s, helping to buy its current headquarters, a brownstone on Eastern Parkway.
Julius was also a co-founder of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters in 1969. The group had its first conference in 1970.
An ardent supporter of Civil Rights, Julius played a critical role in getting the city’s fire unions to denounce the fire departments of southern cities who turned fire hoses on peaceful marchers and protestors.
In 1963, Julius — by then an officer — asked the Uniformed Fire Officers Association to write a resolution condemning the use of hoses on civilians, especially children.
The UFOA’s all-white executive board agreed — but when it presented the resolution to the membership, it was voted down, Julius said.
Even though he was one of the few black officers in the union — and a new member — Julius spoke up, and forced the board to pass the resolution anyway.
“I’m very proud of that,” Julius told Birmingham NPR station WBHM last year. “It was a good move, a tough move. I took some brick bats for it, but who the hell cares? Life is made to take adversaries.”
He was the first black firefighter appointed to the FDNY Honor Emergency Fund, which gave out financial assistance to needy families of fallen smoke eaters.
In the turbulent 1970s, part of the FDNY’s busiest stretch known as the “War Years,” he was the department’s community liaison to underserved neighborhoods — places where the fires burned highest and firefighters often found themselves pelted with rocks and garbage from tenement rooftops.
When women moved to join the all-male Bravest in the late 1970s, Julius was their most outspoken champion, said his longtime colleague and friend, James T. Lee.
“He was an organization man, he did a tremendous amount for every organization he joined,” said the 85-year-old retired FDNY firefighter.
“Vinnie always kept the fire burning for justice,” Lee said.
A viewing and funeral will be held Monday, May 16 at 10 a.m. at Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, at 75 Pine Lakes Parkway South in Palm Coast, Florida.
One might wonder how a Jersey City fire fighter ended up participating in Junior Fire Fire Fighter Competition in Warren County, North Carolina. No wonder at all. My Dad was born 8 miles from there in Littleton, NC. I was invited to speak at the African American Heritage Festival last year, when they honored Firefighters. There I met some great folks….Fire Chief & Mayor Gardner, Chief Advisor John Franks, Chaplain Stith and J. Greene. As firefighters do, we hit it of. I told them about my years of coming back to North Carolina and about my love for our noble profession.
They shared the workings of the various departments and EMS. Our friendship was formed. Firefighters are the same, all over!
What an excellent couple of days spent with the Warren County (NC) Junior Firefighters, as they hosted the 2016 Junior Fire Fighter Competition. I want to thank Chief Advisor, John Franks for his warm invitation and welcome to share with the Juniors. We spent a great day with them and groups from West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and neighboring areas. The spirit of competition and camaraderie, among the groups and supporters, was a true inspiration. I particularly liked the fact that on several occasions faster team members completed their tasks and rather than run on to complete their “personal best time”, they stayed in the zone and helped their teammates complete their task…an example for us all.
Hoseline tug-of-war competition. This was an exhilarating battle between several young teen groups. Their perseverance and attention to details won the battle for them. Stellar examples of situational awareness!
Learned a great lesson from these young people…don’t give up and rely on your training. There were several times that it looked like the battle would go one way. These young crews dug in and moved the barrel. I over heard a few of the coaches relate these incidents to fire fighting. Telling them how hold the line, work the nozzle and how to back each other up.
Here is a unique chance to see teamwork and team-building, from the host group Warrenton.
There were several other events. I’ll post more when I’m back…
How do you improve on improvement? How do you make improvement part of an on-going process? This short clip is a session wrap up. It concludes with the theory of “Kaizen”; small incremental changes towards the greater good. Utilizing input from all areas.
#FDIC2016 Only 3 days before the largest Firefighter Conference in the world. (Over 30,000 FF’s and Instructors)
I hope you can attend but also hope you find time to stop by my workshop on Leadership. My session is April 19, 2016, 1:30 pm to 5:30 pm, Room 134-135 on the main floor. #fireofficertrust
While recently training, in the Durban, South Africa part of the world, I was working with a group of First Responders to assist with training.
While using the Ethekwini Fire Academy, I met a group of young cadets (all young ladies) who were preparing for their finals – particularly their HazMat Practicals. The staff invited me to assist and observe. I was honored. This is just a short clip. They had already completed FF 1 & 2, based on the NFPA, for the past 4 months. The Hazmat was additional, due to the fact that they were graduating and going on shift for 8 months. I was impressed by their candor, professionalism and attention to details. Their instructors deserve all of the credit. I was just happy to witness them go through the paces. I am so proud of each and every one of them. I had a great time working with them and I wish them all much continued success.