Nov. 19, 2010, marked the 115th year anniversary of the death of Sam Haskins, the city’s first firefighter killed in the line of duty. Haskins’ sacrifice was forgotten for more than a century and not included in the line-of-duty deaths until 2002, when the details of his life resurfaced.

Haskins was a former slave born in Virginia in Feb. 1846. In 1880, 15 years after the Civil War, Haskins, then a free man, made the cross-country journey to Los Angeles. He was joined by former slave and good friend George Warner.

Although he was buried in full Los Angeles Fire Department regalia, there was no marker on his grave and no line-of-duty death list was kept. Haskins’ contemporaries passed his story on, but over time it was lost. The tale was first reported by author and columnist Cecilia Rasmussen in the Los Angeles Times in November 2002.

More than 100 years after Haskins’ death, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department crime analyst Joe Walker, researching an unrelated case, found information on Haskins and pieced together the story and location of his grave.

Walker contacted Arnett Hartsfield, 92, who served as a Los Angeles firefighter from 1940 to 1961, and has been African American firefighters’ local historian for nearly seven decades. Hartsfield also had a career as a lawyer (USC Law, 1955), as a professor of ethnic studies at Cal State Long Beach, as a civil service commissioner under Mayor Tom Bradley, and is best known for his dedicated work as an integration pioneer in the LAFD.

Currently, he volunteers at the African American Firefighter Museum, which is housed at Central Avenue and 14th Street in downtown L.A.

Three times a week, Hartsfield greets visitors to the museum and shares great detail of the fight for integration in the LAFD.

Hartsfield checked the details on Haskins and realized they brought a number of significant issues to light. Haskins was confirmed as the first African American firefighter in the department, preceding George Washington Bright who was thought to be the first. However, Bright joined the department two years after Haskins’ death.

Haskins was also the first person of any ethnicity to die in the line of duty as a LAFD firefighter.

He served with devotion, and was dedicated to service. It was that dedication that led to his death on Nov. 19, 1895.

However, years before his death, Haskins had attained hero status for coming to the defense of an officer named Valencia.

A pioneer in his own right, Hartsfield will be honored on Saturday at 10 a.m. with a liftetime achievement award presented by fire academy Chief Kenneth Mays at the El Camino College Fire Academy, during the graduation of class No. 129. The graduation ceremony will take place at the academy located at 206 W. Beech St., Inglewood. The public is welcome.

Joe Shalmoni is a recruit in the El Camino College Fire Academy graduating class No. 129. To read the full story about Haskins and Hartfield, visit the