Edward R. Bunch Jr., 69, firefighter, among first blacks to serve in city

February 25, 1999|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Edward R. Bunch Jr., a Baltimore firefighter for nearly 40 years and one of the city's first African-American firefighters, died Monday of cancer at his Northeast Baltimore home.

Mr. Bunch, 69, was among the third class of blacks to graduate from the city's firefighters academy and work at city firehouses. For many years, he was stationed at the Roland Park firehouse, Engine No. 44.

"Bunch was active in helping blacks get to where they are today," said Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr., who along with Mr. Bunch joined the department in 1954.

Few blacks were firefighters when Mr. Bunch joined the department, and those few were met with resistance from the public and their co-workers.

"We had no idea of what we were facing as far as discrimination," Mr. Williams said.

Firefighters and city police officers were given free rides aboard public transportation. Like all blacks, however, Mr. Bunch was forced to sit in the back of the bus.

"Some of the whites in Roland Park wouldn't let him in their homes when there was a fire," said his daughter Beverly J. Bunch of Joppatowne.

Mr. Bunch gained respect among his peers from his professionalism and dependability, said another of his daughters, Jael Bunch of Baltimore.

He loved working for the Fire Department and tried to recruit minorities.

"He was always trying to get my boyfriends to join the Fire Department," said Beverly J. Bunch. "He tried to get me to be the first black female firefighter in the city. He always said it was a wonderful career for minorities."

Mr. Bunch retired in 1992.

A Baltimore native, Mr. Bunch graduated from Frederick Douglass High School in 1948 and worked in the print shop at Johns Hopkins Hospital until 1949. He later worked at the U.S. Printing Office in Washington and began work for the Fire Department in 1954.

Mr. Bunch was a member of the Vulcan Blazers, an organization of the city's African-American firefighters. He enjoyed reading -- he often read a book a day while on call with the department -- traveling, playing cards and operating a successful home improvement business from his home.

Services are scheduled for noon Saturday at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, 430 E. Belvedere Ave.

Mr. Bunch married Lena Glasgow in 1948; the marriage ended in divorce. He married Elizabeth McCellend in the 1960s.

In addition to his wife and two daughters, Mr. Bunch is survived by two sons, Edward Richard Bunch III and Larry Ball, both of Baltimore; three other daughters, Tommye Seawell and Antonia Workman, both of Baltimore, and Jacqueline Williams of Oakland, Calif.; a brother, Lewis Armstrong of Baltimore; a sister, Sue Armstrong White of Baltimore; 11 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the Edward R. Bunch Jr. Memorial Firefighter Scholarship Fund, Vulcan Blazers Trustees, 2811 Druid Park Drive, Baltimore 21215.

Pub Date: 2/25/99

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