ALEXANDRIA, VA – Alexandria Fire Chief Corey Smedley was serious when he said, “There would be no Corey Smedley without Gerald Wanzer.”
You see, 53 years ago, Gerald Wanzer became only the second African American ever hired by the Alexandria Fire Department (AFD). Yesterday he formally received the rank of Honorary Lieutenant along with a helmet and badge in a ceremony attended by old friends, colleagues, and family.
The 75-year old Wanzer was guaranteed by Chief Smedley that the commitment of diversity was strong at AFD, and that the recognition for trailblazers like Wanzer was long overdue.
“Becoming a firefighter was always Gerald Wanzer’s childhood dream, especially after he received a toy fire truck as a gift from his mother,” Raytevia Evans, of the Alexandria Fire Department, told the Zebra. “He said he wasn’t aware at the time that he couldn’t be a firefighter because he was black.”
Gerald Wanzer graduated in 1962 from Alexandria’s Parker-Gray High School, and he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1963, where he was trained as a communication technician. Honorably discharged in 1967, he returned home to Alexandria becoming the first African American telephone installer for C&P Telephone Company.
While working in Old Town, Wanzer ran into his friend John Davis, Alexandria’s first African American firefighter (1966), who convinced him to apply for a job at the fire department.
The rest is history as they say. Eventually Wanzer became the first president of the Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax Chapter of the Black Firefighters International Association now known as the Black Fire Service Professionals of Alexandria (BFSPA).
Captain John Locke (retired), who was a part of his crew at AFD, said “Wanzer has always been a good man and someone who other black firefighters and the rest of the community can look up to.”
His friend and former coworker Firefighter Mike Milton also shared a few memories from his time working with his close friend Gerald Wanzer.
Wanzer’s three children were present during yesterday’s presentation.