A city firefighter at heart

Ceremony: The department names a station after Arthur `Smokestack' Hardy, who was an auxiliary member.

May 07, 2004|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Arthur "Smokestack" Hardy earned his nickname chasing behind the billowing smoke of turn-of-the-century city firetrucks racing to a blaze.

"Whenever there was a fire, you could count on Arthur running behind the trucks with the smoke coming over his head," said Delmar Davis, a friend of Smokestack and member of his fire buffs club.

Hardy died in 1995 at age 94, leaving behind a life that could fill a chapter in city folklore.

During a morning ceremony attended by the mayor, the Fire Department named the fire station at 405 McMechen St. after Hardy yesterday. The station is the home of Engine Company 13 and Truck Company 16.

"He told me that one day this was going to happen," Phyllis Purnell, Hardy's niece, said after yesterday's ceremony. "It's been a long time coming, but he deserves this."

As a boy, Hardy lived near the former station home of Engine 13 at Fremont and Myrtle avenues. His earliest memory of firefighters was watching the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 when he was 3.

Hardy grew up wanting to become a firefighter, but the segregated fire department would not hire blacks.

So Hardy would show up on the scene of fires and help out where he was allowed - becoming a firefighter at heart. He took pictures and collected firefighting memorabilia. He decorated every room of his house with the artifacts - except the bathroom, where he hung pictures of women.

In 1942, Hardy and 14 other black men formed an auxiliary fire department. In 1952, the city Fire Department allowed the auxiliary firefighters to train and ride on fire apparatus with the regular firefighters. Hardy rode with Engine 13. A year later, the Fire Department integrated, but Hardy remained in the auxiliary unit.

"Here's a man who didn't allow the injustices of his time to temper his passion," Mayor Martin O'Malley said during yesterday's ceremony.

O'Malley and Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. unveiled a plaque honoring Hardy that will be posted at the fire station.

Hardy collected many items about black firefighters in other cities and countries because there were none in Baltimore for him to chronicle, Purnell said.

The city Fire Department changed its recruiting and hiring procedures last month after The Sun reported that Baltimore hired its first all-white class since the department integrated in 1953.

Purnell said the racial makeup of the current class would have saddened Hardy. The Fire Department has added to the academy six black people who graduated from a high school fire training program, but they are not considered employees because they have not passed an entrance exam.

Guy Cephas, an auxiliary firefighter, keeps much of the memorabilia that Hardy collected. The front room of Cephas' house in the 200 block of N. Carey St. is the Arthur "Smokestack" Hardy Fire Museum.

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