Engine Company No. 4 became DC's first all-black firefighting company on April 3, 1919.

The DC Fire Department had employed a few African American firefighters since 1868, however none of them had ever been promoted to officer. In 1918 16-year veteran Private Charles E. Gibson, along with two other veterans of the fire department, Private Frank Hall and Private Richard J. Holmes, sought to remedy that situation by petitioning for an all-black company. The fire department agreed and the following year, after implementing a two-platoon system and hiring more African American firemen, it chose Engine Company No. 4, at 474 Virginia Avenue, SW, as the first all-African American company. Private Gibson was made captain, Private James G.B. Keys was promoted to lieutenant, and Private Holmes was promoted to sergeant, while Private Hall remained an administrator. Eleven other privates completed the company; two more privates were appointed the following year.

In 1940 the DC Fire Department consolidated and moved Engine 4 to 931 R Street, NW, which had been built in 1885 to house Engine Company No. 7. In 1943 Gordon Parks documented Engine 4 in a series of photographs that can be viewed on the Library of Congress Divison of Prints & Photographs' online catalog.

When the DC Fire Department desegregated in 1962 it split up its five all-black companies. In 1976 Engine 4 moved to 2531 Sherman Avenue, NW. Those quarters were renamed in 2009 to honor the late Chief Burton W. Johnson. Johnson was appointed to Engine Company No. 4, 931 R Street, NW, on January 16, 1943. He later became the DC Fire Department's first African American fire chief and DC's first African American fire marshal.


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