Fire dept. mourns groundbreaking member - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Fire dept. mourns groundbreaking member

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Capt. Abram Coles, Jr. (Source: Columbia Fire Dept.) Capt. Abram Coles, Jr. (Source: Columbia Fire Dept.)

One of the first black members of the Columbia Fire Department has died.

Chief Aubrey Jenkins announced Thursday the death of retired Fire Department Capt. Abram Coles, Jr. Coles began his career with the department in 1953 and served for 35 years.

Jenkins met Coles in 1979.

"We just kind of hit off right away," he said. "My father died in '73 when I was a young boy and in '79 when I went to the fire department, I picked up a second father which was Capt. Coles."

Jenkins spent long hours alongside Coles, helping him out with his painting business on his days off.

"Capt. Coles kind of taught me the meaning of life." said Jenkins. "I learned my work ethics from my father but I learned how to be successful from Capt. Coles."

Their conversations often touched on Coles' early days on the job during segregation, before Brown vs. Board of Education and long before the Civil Rights Act. He was the last surviving member of the original eight black firefighters to join the fire department in 1953.

"He had some pretty wild stories," said Jenkins. "Names they were called and just the stuff they had to go through and they were determined to show that they could do the job as well as anybody else. Because they survived that gave me the opportunity I have today."

Throughout the years Coles was there to see Jenkins succeed.

"Everything that he did, everything that he taught me, everything that he said to me, it was for a reason," said Jenkins. "Because he wanted to see me succeed. I'm just glad to have lived out that moment where I did succeed to be the fire chief because I can attribute it all to him."

Coles was 87 years old. A funeral is tentatively scheduled for December 21st. 

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