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International Association of Black Professional Firefighters celebrates its 50th anniversary in Hartford

Kristie McNeill-Free (left) adjusts Sheena Spence’s hat before a march in Hartford of an estimated 300 members of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters during the organization's Golden Anniversary Convention.
Tony Spinelli
/
Connecticut Public
Kristie McNeill-Free (left) adjusts Sheena Spence’s hat before a march in Hartford of an estimated 300 members of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters during the organization's Golden Anniversary Convention.

The International Association of Black Professional Firefighters (IABPFF) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week in Hartford.

The IABPFF has over 8,000 members and works to recruit Black career firefighters and assist them with career progression through training, mentorship, mental health resources and legal representation.

About 80% of firefighters are non-Hispanic white, and only about 6% are Black, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association.

082422 - HARTFORD CT - Carrying a ceremonial firefighter axe, Greg Johnson of the Hartford FD, leads a march of an estimated 300 members of the International Association of Black Firefighters during their Golden Anniversary Convention.
Tony Spinelli
/
Connecticut Public
Carrying a ceremonial firefighter ax, Greg Johnson of the Hartford Fire Department leads a march of an estimated 300 members of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters during the organization's Golden Anniversary Convention.

“When I came on the job, there were maybe one or two African American officers in my department,” said Frank Tidwell, northeast regional director for the IABPFF. “Today, there are maybe 20.”

Gary Tinney, executive vice president of the IABPFF, pointed to economic problems that may occur when fire departments don’t resemble the communities they serve.

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Tony Spinelli
/
Connecticut Public
The Hartford Proud Drill Drum and Dance Corp. marches with an estimated 300 firefighters from the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters. The association held its Golden Anniversary Convention this week in Hartford.

“You go into a city like New Haven and most individuals are coming in from other cities,” Tinney said. “They’re taking that money and leaving. That money’s not staying in the community.”

The organization, which held its first convention in Hartford in 1970, originally planned its golden anniversary celebration for 2020 but had to postpone it due to the pandemic.

The anniversary convention, which included a memorial march on Wednesday, will continue all week. On Friday, a community service event will take place, during which firefighters will distribute school supplies to Hartford students.

An estimated 300 members of the International Association of Black Firefighters march through Hartford marking their Golden Anniversary held this week in Hartford.
Tony Spinelli
/
Connecticut Public
Some 300 members of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters march through Hartford to mark the association's golden anniversary.