150 Year Anniversary of the First African American Fire Chief – Patrick H Raymond

PH Raymond


1831 – 1892

On Wednesday evening January 4, 1871, at the first regular meeting of the new city government of the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the name of P. H. Raymond, was placed before the full board for consideration. After his election that night to the post of Chief Engineer of the Cambridge Fire Department, Patrick H. Raymond became the first African American fire chief in the history of the United States. Born in Philadelphia, the son of the Reverend John and Susan Raymond, his father, a runaway slave from Virginia who became a well-known abolitionist in New York City, was one of the early pastors of the African Meeting House in Boston. About 1847, the Raymond family moved to Cambridge, where they lived on Washington Street near Kendall Square in the “lower Port,” Cambridge’s first African American neighborhood. Raymond worked as a shoemaker before becoming a journalist at the Boston Herald and the Boston Advertiser. Able to pass as white, he and his brother joined the United States Navy serving in the Civil War from 1862.-1864. Raymond returned to Cambridge, and in 1869 became the editor of the weekly Cambridge Press.

In 1871, Mayor Hamlin Harding, a former editor of the paper, appointed him Chief Engineer of the Cambridge Fire Department. Known as an enthusiastic firefighter he was the Captain of Engine 5 in Inman Square, was promoted to Assistant Chief Engineer, and then promoted to Chief Engineer on 5 January 1871. In 1870, the department had four assistant engineers, fifteen foremen (now called captains), nine drivers, fifty-two part-time firemen, and a telegraph operator. The horse-drawn apparatus consisted of four steam fire engines and a hook and ladder truck. Chief Raymond was in command of the Cambridge MA Fire Department during the Great Fire of Boston in 1872, working with Boston Fire Chief Damrell in controlling the great fire. Cambridge had sent the entire fire department to the fire in Boston, with the exception of reserve apparatus. Two Cambridge firefighters were killed at this massive fire which destroyed a large area of downtown Boston.

Chief Raymond advocated stronger fire prevention codes, an increase in the number of fire companies and company strength, and a fully-paid, permanent fire department. Raymond noted in 1873 that “the extinguishment of the fire has now become a business and has ceased to be a pastime, and greater facilities for making the business a successful one should be unhesitatingly provided.”  He believed that the Cambridge Fire Department could be improved by employing full-time firefighters rather than relying on volunteers, which he brought to the city’s leaders. Over the next seven years, Raymond was able to triple the annual budget of the department, creating two new fire companies and building new firehouses on Portland Street and Western Avenue and in Brattle and Inman squares. Raymond suffered intense criticism from his rivals at the Cambridge Chronicle, but he survived eight years as Chief and served at the pleasure of four mayors. At his home where he resided at 10 Pleasant Street which was across Green Street from the Cambridge City Hall of that time, there is a marker about Patrick Raymond, being the first African American Fire Chief in the country

After Raymond was replaced as chief in 1878, he continued as editor and business agent of the Cambridge Press until 1890. He was elected corresponding secretary of the National Association of Fire Engineers in 1873. Also one of the founders of the Veterans Fireman’s Association of Cambridge, he served for several years as its president.  After a lengthy illness, Patrick Henry Raymond died on Thursday, July 28, 1892, at the Cambridge Hospital. Recognized for his knowledge of the City’s local affairs and municipal history, being widely and favorably known he had a host of friends to mourn his death. In his immediate family, he was survived by a widow and daughter. On Sunday, July 31, 1892, following his funeral services at Grace Methods Episcopal Church, P.H.Raymond was buried in the soldiers’ lot at the Cambridge Cemetery. The Patrick H. Raymond Engine Company Number 5 and Cambridge Fire’s Marine Unit 1; a custom-built, welded aluminum fire/rescue boat, are both named in honor of Chief Raymond: the first African American Fire Chief in our nation’s history.  

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