Columbia, SC (WLTX) - In May of 1953, eight men were hired and started training to become Columbia firefighters. The lone survivor, Captain Abram Coles, said his journey up the fire department ranks would begin in the midst of segregation.
"We had to be better than all of them to stay on the job," said Capt. Coles. "We had to be better than the next person so we proved to them that we could stay there and put out the fires."
Coles said the brotherhood found at a fire station is strong enough to bring together men of different colors, races and backgrounds.
"We were all working for the same purpose: to put out the fire."
Captain Coles spent 35 years putting out fires in the City of Columbia. But battling blazes wasn't Coles' only responsibility. He took great pride in turning boys into men and civilians into firefighters.
"I was one of the tough guys and if you come by me, you will be a good firemen."
Chief Aubrey Jenkins said he feels blessed to have crossed Captain Coles path.
"I just appreciate them sticking it out so that they could pave the way for me," said Jenkins.
Jenkins said Coles' passion for the job and committment to the people in which he served is something he strives to do everyday. Jenkins was only 25 years old when Coles' got a hold of him and said training wasn't the easiest thing he's ever done.
"I tell you what he'll put your feet to the fire. He'll put your feet to the fire," said Jenkins with a smile. "He was a tough captain and he demands excellence."