“He went where there was no path and he left a trail.” Sam Jones was the first black member of the Hamden Fire Department | Connecticut News

HAMDEN, CT (WFSB) – Throughout February, Channel 3 presented viewers with stories celebrating black history.

Sam Jones was the first black member of the Hamden Fire Department in 1961.

In this story, being the first is always significant. That’s what happened in Hamden in the early 1960s.

A black man has broken through the color barrier to become the Hamden Fire Department’s first person of color.

Now the legacy of Sam Jones provides an opportunity for others.

The headline that day in 1961 in The New Haven Register clearly indicated, even at the time, the importance of this hiring.

A commission unanimously approved Jones’ hiring as a firefighter.

Kenneth Jones is his son.

“My father Sam Jones, he didn’t go where the path would lead. He went where there was no path and he left a trail,” Kenneth Jones told Channel 3.

Sam Jones was originally from North Carolina.

He moved to Connecticut after graduating from Knoxville College in Tennessee.

Not only was he the first person of color, but he was also one of the few firefighters in Hamden to have a college degree.

“When he graduated from college, his mother was in CT,” Kenneth Jones said. “So he went to the CT where his mother was. He had a few jobs. I don’t know how he found out about the Hamden Fire Department, it’s something he pursued.

Jones turned the job into a nearly 30-year career.

He retired in 1991.

Sam Jones died in October 2015, just before his 90th birthday. Yet his legacy lives on today, especially now with a scholarship named after him. He helps recruit students for the EMT school, especially students who look like him.

Hamden Fire Chief Gary Merwede said the scholarship is about awareness and access, two key elements of diversity.

“It’s essential because you want your workforce to represent the community you serve, right?” said Merwede.

As for why an EMT school, and not the fire academy, EMT certification is essential to becoming a firefighter.

When Sam Jones applied, this certification did not exist.

Today it is a basic requirement. Many fire departments require it just to apply.

“Raising awareness of the opportunities that come with gateway certification like EMT is really a way to get into a career path,” Merwede said.

Larry Bowden is a firefighter from Hamden who will serve as a mentor to the selected fellows.

He said he would make sure they knew who opened the door for them.

“I’m here right now,” Bowden said. “If it wasn’t for Sam Jones, you know, who knows. That’s one thing I can tell them: no matter how badly you think you have it now, think Sam Jones. Think of 1961.”

It’s an incredible legacy from a firefighter who defined what courage really means.

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