Richmond Fire mourns the loss of first black fire Chief


Richmond, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Fire is mourning the loss of its first black fire chief, Ronald C. Lewis, who passed away Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019.

After passing extensive tests, Lewis accepted the offer to become Richmond’s 17th Fire Chief and head one of the largest departments in city government on Nov. 15, 1978.

Once in the city, he helped found the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters
(IABPFF) where he served as Northeast Regional Vice-President for four years and it’s Affirmative Action Officer for three years.

Before that, Lewis rose up through the ranks in the Philadelphia Fire Department.

He joined July 2, 1956, was promoted to Lieutenant in 1963 and later became Battalion Chief in 1974. 

While there, Lewis served as Publicity Chairman, Vice President, and President of the Valiant’s, Inc. of Philadelphia.

He was also on the Board of Trustees of the Philadelphia Fire Officers Association for three years and was the only African-American on the Fire Department Federal Appeals Panel appointed by U.S. District Judge Louis Battle.

Lewis won numerous awards throughout his career such as EEO Person of the Year for 1991 by
Virginia Fire Programs Board, and the Freedom Award by Richmond Local Chapter of NAACP.

Lewis had a significant impact on the communities he served, creating and maintaining many programs that are still in existence today.

He created two smoke detector give-away programs in 1983 and 1984, where over 7,000 smoke
detectors were distributed to those in need.

Lewis is credited with reducing fire deaths in Richmond by 75 percent and creating a Fire Safety Education program for all fifth-grade students in Richmond Public Schools. 

The late fire chief also worked to protect everyone in uniform. He upgraded firefighter equipment and protective clothing and implemented large diameter (4”) supply lines and a lighter self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) which reduced firefighter loads over 10 pounds.

Lewis created a Fire Fighters Physical Fitness Program and increased minority hiring.

Furthermore, the award-winning chief created a hazmat unit with a weather station, created the River, Dive and Rescue Team, put computers in all Suppression Division vehicles.

He created a Fire Information Management Computer System, reorganized the Richmond Department of Fire and Emergency Services which resulted in increased efficiency with no increased spending, and rebuilt seven out of twenty-five stations and facilities within the city.

Lewis also established a Career Development Program for Richmond firefighters, the Sign Language Program to help firefighters better serve hearing-impaired citizens, and created the Braille I.D. card that allows fire personnel to identify themselves to visually-impaired residents. 

Fire Chief Lewis was born June 15, 1934, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He graduated from
Dobbins V.T. High School before attending University of Pennsylvania and Temple University
(Management and Administration). 

The Memorial Service for Retired Fire Chief Lewis will be held on Friday, March 1, 2019.

The service starts at 11:00 a.m. at Fifth Baptist Church, located at 1415 W. Cary Street, Richmond, VA 23220.

The repast will be at Ebenezer Baptist Church, located 216 W. Leigh Street, Richmond, VA 23219 immediately after the service.

Send flower donations to the Ronald C. Lewis Scholarship Fund.

Here’s the address: 

Richmond Fire Police Credit Union
900 Hermitage Road
Richmond, VA 23220 

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