The Chicago Sun-Times has an article with photos commemorating the life of veteran Chicago Batatlion Chief Oswald B. Lewis who died recently:

Through the Blizzard of ’67, the spectacular blaze that same year that destroyed Chicago’s first McCormick Place, and the 1968 riots that decimated the West Side, Oswald B. Lewis was there.

Mr. Lewis, who rose to the rank of battalion chief with the Chicago Fire Department, worked on Snorkel Squad 3, considered the busiest snorkel squad in the city. The unit, located at Francisco and Fillmore and later at Erie and Western, received about 20 fire calls a day — or nearly 7,000 runs a year.

“It was a crack outfit. They were running their wheels off,” said Kenneth Little, a department historian and retired fire-alarm operator, who added that firefighting improved with the squads’ then-new, flexible snorkels. “Everybody knew this guy was going places.”

Mr. Lewis knew his equipment. He didn’t ask anything of his firefighters that he wouldn’t do himself. He was adept at getting in and out of burning buildings. And he made sure no one was left behind.

“I got turned around in a basement and he came down looking for me and he found me,” retired Fire Lt. Mike Dineen said. “We both worked our way back out of there.”

“He always gave credit to us firefighters,” said Pete Cunningham, a retired deputy district chief. “If you did something worthwhile at a fire, he’d write you up for an award. He was always doing those extra things.”

Mr. Lewis, who joined the department in 1955, was considered an inspiration to young African-American firefighters. And he was a respected leader throughout a department with as many layers of tribal strata — racial, political, social — as its hometown. He died May 21 at Mercy Hospital. He was 89.

One of his toughest times on the department occurred when the West Side went up in flames after the 1968 shooting of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to fighting fires, he had to duck homemade missiles lobbed by grief-furious rioters.

“It got to the point we had to be escorted by police,” said Jim Syler, a retired acting battalion chief. “If you drove on the Congress Expressway [now the Eisenhower], they were throwing bricks and rocks on the expressway at cars.”

Chicago’s first African-American firefighter was hired in 1872, said Little, who has co-authored four books on the department. But firehouses were largely segregated until about the mid-1960s, according to Dekalb Walcott Jr., a retired battalion chief who is working on a Chicago African American Firefighters Museum.

Mr. Lewis hit the books hard to ensure promotions, his daughter said. “He didn’t have a patron, he didn’t come from Bridgeport, he wasn’t Irish or Italian,” she said, “so you had to earn your peer’s respect. While it was good for him to be on the scene fighting fires and showing courage and leadership, he also had to pass those exams.”

His communication skills also helped him succeed, said Les Outerbridge, a retired fire engineer who co-founded the Afro American Firefighters League. “He could connect with people, [he was] very soft-spoken, very well-read, so he could really hold a conversation with just about everybody.”

After retiring from the department in 1979, he worked for the Occupational and Safety and Health Administration and at the National Safety Council.

thanks Dan