Monument to a modest man

Fire station named for one of its first black members

December 03, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

If Littleton B. Wyatt Sr. had been at the Park Heights Avenue fire station yesterday to see it named after him, those who knew him say, he would have shied away from all the attention.

Wyatt, a 47-year-veteran of the department assigned to Engine Company No. 29, would have "thought all this was unnecessary," said Katrina Odom, the youngest of Wyatt's five children. "He would have been proud, though, and appreciative."

Retired Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr. said he thought Wyatt would have looked at all the officials, fellow firefighters, honor guard and relatives gathered for the station dedication and said: "I only did my job."

But Katherine Wyatt said she believed that if her husband of 51 years hadn't developed pancreatic cancer and died at age 75 in January 2002, "he probably would have been working today."

Wyatt holds the record as the longest continuously serving firefighter at the same city station. Even on his last day of duty, at the age of 74, he fought a fire, officials said.

Wyatt is one of only six firefighters in the city to have a station named for him, said Chief Kevin Cartwright, the Fire Department's spokesman.

In addition to his family, officials and dignitaries, including Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. and Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham Sr., president of the Baltimore NAACP chapter, huddled in a tent in front of the station for a ceremony that included eulogies, prayers and singing.

Williams told them to celebrate Wyatt's contributions. "This is a happy day," he said.

Raised in Sparrows Point, Wyatt served in the Army for two years during World War II. He was a 1953 graduate of what was then Morgan State College, where he was a football player and champion wrestler.

Wyatt joined the city Fire Department in 1954. He was a member of the second class to include black cadets. At the time, black firefighters weren't allowed to use the same toilets as their white counterparts. And they were initially denied membership in the union, said retired firefighter Charles Thomas, founder of the Vulcan Blazers, an organization of black firefighters. "It was quite a struggle," he said.

While working at the station, which is among the city's busiest, officials said that Wyatt was often called upon to teach younger firefighters.

"He was a firefighter's firefighter - that's the best way I can describe him," said retired Lt. Ronald Keene who worked at nearby Engine 52 and often fought fires with Wyatt. A tall and muscular man, Wyatt was known for his strength, colleagues said. "If [there was] one guy who could carry one length of hose, Wyatt would be carrying two," Keene said. "And he always had a joke."

Inside the station, Wyatt was well-liked and respected, friends and colleagues said. "He liked to cook," Katherine Wyatt said. "He even brought some pots and pans down here."

At the age of 70, Wyatt received the department's exemplary performance award for rushing into a burning building in West Baltimore to rescue someone inside.

Asked to describe the incident, Wyatt told a Sun columnist in an 2001 interview, "The lieutenant and I pulled him out."

Wyatt added: "I'm not trying to be no hero, now."

Such responses were typical of Wyatt, who was described repeatedly yesterday as a modest man.

Wyatt retired in November 2001. He wasn't upset when he was diagnosed with cancer, his daughter, Katrina, said. "He said, `God has blessed me.'"

He had seen his children grow and had gotten to know his eight granddaughters. But he didn't know that one of them, Keturah Wyatt, would become a city firefighter. The 26-year-old woman, who graduated from the academy in August, works at the station now named for her grandfather.

"I'm so happy to be here," she said yesterday, beneath the brick wall where her grandfather's name was unveiled in shiny letters between two truck bays. "It reminds me I need to work hard."

Her grandfather had pride in his work ethic, she and others said. In the 2001 interview, Wyatt said: "I know I did my job. I didn't lay down on nobody."

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd contributed to this article.

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