John B. Stewart Jr., who became one of New England’s first African American fire chiefs, died on Saturday at age 85 due to complications from a fall.
The fire station for Engine Company 14 on Blue Hills Avenue is named after Stewart, who was the first African American fire chief in Hartford, breaking barriers in the city and beyond.
“He remained driving and vigilant and vibrant all the way up to his last day,” John B. Stewart III, one of the former chief’s sons, said.
John B. Stewart Jr., a Hartford native, joined the fire department in 1952, rose through the ranks, made history, and served as chief for 12 years.
His was not been an easy climb to the top and he wrote about it in, “Hard Climb Up the Ladder.”
“He used to tell us about discrimination in the firehouse. They had to sleep in separate areas, separate bunks,” his son said.
John B. Stewart Jr. was a hero to many residents in Hartford and friends and co-workers said he was a pioneering and compassionate leader who hired the department’s first female and Hispanic firefighters.
“He was just the type of guy that always wanted to be progressive. He brought us out of some of the dark ages,”said Nelson K. Carter Sr., who took over as chief when Stewart retired.
After leaving the department, Stewart remained active in the community and politics, serving as majority leader on the City Council.
In honor of his life, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra ordered flags to fly at half-staff until next Sunday.
In a statement, the mayor wrote in part, “In his own words, he was ‘proof that Hartford represents the American Dream.’ My heart goes out to his family, his loved ones, and all those whose lives he touched.”
Stewart leaves behind six children.
“We want him to be remembered, I’m sure he does, as a person who cared about his city and the people in the city,” Stewart III said.
The former chief’s funeral will be held at 11 a.m. on Wednesday at Faith Congregational Church on Main Street in Hartford.