FCS Reporter’s Notebook: Lewis Class firefighters graduate - FOX 32 News Chicago

FCS Reporter’s Notebook: Lewis Class firefighters graduate

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Thursday was graduation day for nearly 100 Chicago firefighters, marking the end of a long racial discrimination fight with the city.

Many African Americans in the graduating class of 2012 took the firefighters exam in 1995 and passed, but were overlooked for a job with the Chicago Fire Department.

In September 1998, those graduates filed a class action lawsuit against the City in the United States District Court. Then last year, a court order required the city of Chicago to hire 111 applicants for a candidate class.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago presided over Thursday's graduation ceremony for 98 new firefighters, including 86 members of the Lewis Class.

"It is always a very special moment when someone takes the oath and takes a step forward to serve our city," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "In the past, the City made a mistake by excluding these outstanding candidates for the Fire Department. After nearly two decades of dreams deferred but never defeated, today, we are correcting that mistake and we welcome all of you with open arms."

Charlie Person said he waited 17 years for this badge and went through 15 weeks of training to be called a Chicago firefighter.

"I'm very happy, very proud and very thankful," Person said.

When Anthony Chaney walked across the stage, his father, a retired Chicago firefighter choked back tears.

"I'm just so proud of him it's just beautiful. Fourth generation and it's great," said Archer Chaney.

Retired firefighters James Winbush and Captain Nick Russell were all part of a small group, who fought for justice after the exam. During the ceremony, they were all smiles.

"Job well done. It feels like, although I don't know what it's like to birth a baby, these are like our children. We're putting our little chicks out," Capt. Russell said.

Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago also participated in his first graduation as Fire Commissioner, which attracted a near capacity crowd at the Navy Pier Grand ballroom.

"We are proud to have these men and women complete our rigorous training course," said Fire Commissioner Santiago. "They have shown themselves to be aggressive in both desire and performance for these positions, and we welcome them to the Chicago Fire Department family."

The new firefighters have already been given their assignments and they'll be on the job next week.

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