First responders, for whom we are very thankful, risk their life to help others. These trained professionals run into burning buildings to save lives and property.

In the 1960s, there were no African-Americans in the Rome Fire Department (RFD). The late Bruce Hamler, city manager at that time, decided to change that and began hiring African-Americans into the RFD. There were several new hires, and among those recruits were Bishop Wesley Brazil, Robert Owens, Clarence Murray, Robert Reynolds and Bobby Jones, all of whom are now retired.

Brazil enthusiastically recruited several new people. That class of recruits included James Barrett, Jerry Barnett and George Neal, all of whom have since passed away, but who faithfully served Rome many years as firefighters.

Those particular recruits faced a good deal of opposition as well as the challenges of training and working in the fire department. It was probably a difficult, challenging time. However, Hamler encouraged these new recruits.

Brazil, a native of Rome, is a 1964 graduate of Main High School. He began working for the RFD in 1971 and retired in 1996.

Owens, a native of Rome, is a 1969 graduate of Main High School. He worked at RFD for many years and retired in 1983. Over the course of his career, Owens worked in the Fire Marshall’s office and visited the schools, working mostly with fifth-graders, educating them on fire safety. He said, “Education is important. Working with the schools has an impact on families which, in turn, impacts the community.”

When asked about his favorite memory from his years with RFD, Owens told a delightful story. One day he was working with a class of fifth-graders at Saint Mary’s. He explained to the class, “When you are a firefighter, you want to be the best firefighter you can be. When you become a driver, you want to be the best driver you can be. When you become an inspector, you want to be the best inspector you can be. When you become a fire investigator, you want to the best fire investigator, you can be.”

He advised the class, “This is my last year. I am going to retire.” One boy said, “I really don’t get this. I don’t understand why you would retire when you are good at what you are doing.” Owens, delighted with that response, told the class, “Well, my wife is retiring, so I’m joining her in retirement.”

When asked what advice he might give somebody considering a career as a firefighter, Owens said, “… for those people interested in service it is a great career.”

We thank all of our first responders everywhere for their continued service to our community.

James Barrett. Jerry Barnett. George Neal. They were among the first African-Americans working for the RFD. We honor their memory, and recognize their service to the community as firefighters for RFD.

Thank you to Bishop Brazil, Robert Owens, Clarence Murray, Robert Reynolds and Bobby Jones for your years of steadfast service to our community as firefighters for the RFD.

Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal and welcomes email to her at pamterrellwalker@gmail.com.