Will Collins becomes first African-American officer in York City Fire Department


About 80 people filled the York City Council chambers with chatter Monday morning as they waited to celebrate the promotion of Will Collins to captain of D Platoon of the York City Fire Department.

Fire Chief David Michaels told the crowd Collins would be the first African American firefighter in the department to be promoted to an officer position, and he described Collins' contributions and achievements.

Evanger Crenshaw, a longtime friend whose husband works with Collins, echoed the chief's words.

"Captain Collins," she whispered.

Collins, who has been with the department since 1997, has served as a mentor to young firefighters and his mechanical skill has saved the city thousands of dollars, Michaels said. The new captains also helps organize an effort to provide food to military veterans on Thanksgiving, the chief said.

Collins, 56, was named Firefighter of the Year in 2013, and in 1999 rescued a child from a fire on South Queen Street.

"It's moved me," Mayor Bracey told the crowd, noting the historic nature of Collins' promotion.

"He was appointed to the department at a time when the city saw a need for more minorities and women," Bracey said. "To see this happen — it has come full circle and is a testament to the process."

Good company: Counting the officers, the fire department is staffed by 54 men, Michaels said, five of whom are black and two of whom are Hispanic.

Fighting fires is a profession that often runs in families, Michaels said. As more minorities join the profession, he hopes their family members will become interested in it, too.

"I think we're going to see a change — it's going to get more diverse," he said.

Collins' wife Kaji and 21-year-old son Tykey were there to celebrate his promotion. His wife stood next to him as he was sworn in.

"I'm looking forward to this journey — it's a new chapter in his life," she said after the ceremony.

Collins, who was a sergeant in the Marine Corps and then worked for the Postal Service before becoming a fire fighter more than 18 years ago, said he is happy to remain with the same platoon he's been with since he started working with the department.

A platoon is a group of firefighters who work a specific shift.

The position: As captain, Michaels said, Collins will be the assistant commander of his platoon.

"It's a critical position for us," the chief said.

Collins will train firefighters and take the role of platoon commander when the assistant chief is off, Michaels said.

He will be in charge of supervising the interior part of putting out fires, going inside structures while the assistant chief takes care of the exterior.

Collins said he'll be responsible for making up an action plan, determining what resources are needed to fight a fire and how they'll be used.

He'll also be on-scene, fighting fires.

How does it feel to approach a burning building?

"Anytime we do have a fire, that's someone's misery — that's someone losing something," Collins said. "That's why we try to be a very aggressive department."

— Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch.com.