Official web site of the Vulcan Society Inc.


Wesley Williams was the third black male to join the New York Fire Department. The first was William H. Nicholson who was appointed in 1898 and shortly after detailed to the veterinary unit.  He retired in 1912. The second was John H. Woodson, 1914 - 1936, assigned to L-106 in Brooklyn. Wesley was appointed January 10, 1919 and assigned to Engine 55 in Manhattan. This was at a time when discrimination and segregation were the rule. The day young Wesley entered the company, the captain took a roll call, thanked the men for their support and left. He retired from the Fire Department the same day because he did not want the stigma of a Black man in his company.  All of the men requested transfers so they would not be forced to work with a Negro or colored man. Fire Department officials imposed a one year moratorium on transfers in hope that the men would adjust to Wesley. He endured discrimination at its worse.  Among the many instances, they would not speak to him and tried to get him to sleep in a bed in the cellar. They said they would speak to him if he slept in the cellar. He refused.  When he went upstairs to the bunks, they went down stairs.  He proved himself by showing how tough he was at fires and whipping butt in the cellar when they challenged him. Williams was promoted to Lieutenant in 1927, Captain in 1934 and Battalion Chief in 1938.  By 1940 there were 40 Black men in the Fire Department, all facing similar problems. Chief Williams suggested the men organize. The Vulcan Society was born. In 1944 the Vulcan Society forced a public hearing before the City Council to expose some of the segregated practices. As a result, a clause was passed in the regulations banning racial practices in the Fire Department.  Wesley Williams never held office in the Vulcan Society but was the spirited force behind the Society.  The Vulcan Society was the first organization to purchase lifetime membership in the NAACP. Wesley Williams died at 86 years on July 3rd, 1984.  Sculptress Tina Alan created a bronze statue of Chief Williams and it was presented at a ceremony marking Chief Wesley Williams Day at the Harlem WMCA on April 28th, 1990

The source of much of the above information was from a speech by Charles F. Williams, grandson of Chief Wesley Williams given at the Fire Department Museum during Black History Week on February 5th, 1990

John H. Woodson, the only Negro fireman in Brooklyn, has won distinction for daring rescues at a recent fire.

The Crisis  November 1916


The Crisis, founded by W.E.B. Du Bois as the official publication of the NAACP, is a journal of civil rights, history, politics, and culture and seeks to educate and challenge its readers about issues that continue to plague African Americans and other communities of color…..

Molly Williams was the first known female firefighter in the United States. An African American, she was held as a slave  belonging to a New York City merchant by the name of Benjamin Aymar who was affiliated with the Oceanus Engine Company #11 in 1818. During her time in the company she was called Volunteer No. 11.

Williams made a distinguished presence in her sturdy work clothes of calico dress and checkered apron and was said to be "as good a fire laddie as many of the boys." Her service was noted particularly during the blizzard of 1818. Male firefighters were scarce due to an influenza outbreak, but Williams took her place with the men on the dragropes and pulled the pumper to the fire through the deep snow.

Robert O. Lowrey   Fire Headquarters 1966

Robert O. Lowery was the first African American Fire Commissioner of New York City. One of the original founding members and president of the Vulcan Society, Commissioner Lowrey was the first black to head the fire department of a major American city. He was also the first commissioner appointed by Mayor John V. Lindsay after his election in 1965.
Commissioner Lowery was appointed as a fireman in 1941. He was promoted to fire marshal in 1946 and that same year won a commendation for arresting a man for 30 acts of arson and burglary. In 1960, he was cited for capturing an armed arsonist, and the next year became an acting lieutenant in the Bureau of Fire Investigation.
In 1963, he was appointed Deputy Fire Commissioner. Lowery addressed the racial issue straightforwardly, striving to increase the proportion of blacks and the sensitivity of whites. He also raised the number of black firefighters assigned to black neighborhoods, as well as the number of blacks in leadership roles.
He was the Fire Department's  21st Fire Commissioner, serving from January 1, 1966 until September 29, 1973.
Robert O. Lowery died July of 2001 at 85 years old.

Ella McNair made history on Tuesday January 29, 2002 when she was appointed the first Black Female Firefighter in the history of the New York Fire Department.
She joins the ranks of four other women who hold officers' rank in this department. Ella joined the department in 1982.
Ella was awarded the Shirley Chisholm Award named for the first Black woman to win a seat in congress, at the first annual Brooklyn Power Womens Networking Breakfast held at Brooklyn Borough Hall

Newly promoted Lieutenant Ella McNair with Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta in the foreground and Chief of Department Dan Nigro in the backround

Robert Turner ll was sworn in as 1st Deputy Fire Commissioner on August 11, 2014.
He served in the rank of Battalion Chief as did his father, Robert Turner Sr.

In 2015 Regina Wilson was sworn in as the first black Female president of the Vulcan Society and is the current president.

Monday October 5, 2015
​A SPECIAL thanks to our beautiful sisters for courageously sharing their inspirational stories of the trials and tribulations in being The First to ever do it. 
Sisters JoAnn Jacobs, Lynn Bernadotte, Cecilia Cox, and Ella McNair told heart-wrenching tales of their lives as the first females in history to don bunker gear for the FDNY. These heroic pioneers left not a dry eye in the Hall last night. We truly appreciate the honesty and compassion it took to recall some of their most trying times as Fire Fighters. Pictured on their shoulders are Giselle King, Antoinette Proctor, Lashonda Brinson-Shaheed, and President Regina Wilson. Herstory is one of Dedication, courage, triumph, and honor. We love our sisters for making us whole!