Today is International Firefighters Day, and today we have the story of a firefighter whose story has been told for centuries: Molly Williams of New York City.

We don’t know a whole lot about Williams’ life, only that she was a Black woman who had been enslaved by a man in New York City.

He worked as a merchant, but also sometimes volunteered at Oceanus Engine Company No. 11 in lower Manhattan.

This is before New York City had organized a fire department, hence the volunteers.

Because he worked at the fire station, Williams also worked there; it’s also said she served as the firehouse cook.

But that wouldn’t be her only assignment there.

In 1818, the city was facing both a blizzard and an outbreak of influenza.

Most of the regular volunteers at the fire station were knocked out of commission, too sick to come in.

Which is when, of course, there was a fire call.

It was Williams who rose to the occasion, joining the regular volunteers in pulling the pumper to the site, which they had to do by hand.

Then she filled the engine with water.

By hand.

In a blizzard.

For that, Molly Williams became known at the station as Volunteer No. 11.

And while many of the details of her life may have been lost to history, her impact is still with us.

Williams is believed to be the first woman firefighter and first Black firefighter in the United States.

There wouldn’t be another woman fighting fires in New York for 164 years.

And by then, they didn’t have to move the fire engines by hand.

Today in 1776, Rhode Island declared independence, two months before the rest of the original United States.

If you’re in Providence, the capital city, you may find, among other attractions, the Big Blue Bug.

It’s a 58 foot long, 9 foot tall fiberglass termite.

Molly Williams, a black woman and a slave, fought fires years before the FDNY was formed was a pioneer for fellow female smoke-eaters (New York Daily News)

Little Known Black History Fact: Molly Williams (Black America Web)

Big Blue Bug In Rhode Island Just Might Be The Strangest Roadside Attraction Yet (Only in Rhode Island)

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Photo via Wikicommons