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‘Never Imagined’: Jersey City Firefighter Promoted to Battalion Chief 60 Years After His Grandfather Became City’s First Black Firefighter

The legacy of New Jersey’s first African-American firefighter, Thomas Gerald Taylor, has grown richer as his grandson celebrates his own career milestone as a firefighter.

Dwayne Taylor, whose father was also a firefighter, was among six minority firefighters — four Hispanic and two African-American— who were promoted to either battalion chief or captain, along with two others during a ceremony on Thursday, Jan. 13, led by Mayor Steven A. Fulop.

Thomas Gerald Taylor (left), Dwayne Taylor with his family (right). Screenshot City of Jersey City)

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to carry on my grandfather’s and father’s legacies by serving this great community,” said Taylor, who was promoted to battalion chief. Since taking office in 2013, Mayor Fulop has made it a priority to diversify the fire department; those efforts seemingly have come full circle with Taylor’s promotion. 

“Today we have the privilege of promoting his grandson,” said Mayor Steve Fulop. “This speaks volumes to about the progress we’ve made.”

During the 36 years leading up to Taylor’s hiring, not a single applicant from a person of color was considered to join the fire department.

The city blames that in part on the leadership of former Mayor Frank Hague, who held office from 1917 to 1947. A news clipping read during the ceremony described Hague and then fire commissioner as “exercising preferential treatment of applicants.”

Taylor’s grandfather began his career as a firefighter in 1950, three years after Hague left office. He served for 29 years before retiring as a captain. He also held the position of president of the Jersey City NAACP for over a decade, and is credited with co-founding Vulcan Pioneers of New Jersey — a civic organization focused on the recruitment, retention, promotion and improved work conditions of minority firefighters. 

“Capt. Taylor was a strong believer in keeping his people and community informed, aware, and involved,” read a Hudson Reporter archive of his passing in 2009.

Reflective on all the day represents not only for himself, but for his family, Battalion Chief Taylor said, “I share this proud day with my family and community. It started with my grandfather breaking through boundaries as the first Black firefighter in one of New Jersey’s largest cities, and it continues today with me being promoted to battalion chief. It’s something my grandfather likely never imagined would happen 60 years later.”

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