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Celebrating Black History Month - First Black woman firefighter in New York City
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By Deputy Chief Chip Nanko
February 13, 2021

'Do you know who the first Black woman firefighter in New York City was? Her name is Molly Williams. There is not a lot known of her other than she was born enslaved, and belonged to the family of Benjamin Aymar, a very wealthy businessman. Benjamin was also a volunteer firefighter. He was a part of the city's earliest firefighting group of men.

Benjamin always brought Molly with him to the firehouse; Oceanus Engine Co. 11, in Lower Manhattan, to cook and clean for the other firefighters. Her duties also included cleaning the hand-pulled, heavy water pumps.

In 1818, a blizzard covered New York, and many of the men became very sick with the flu. Because Molly had spent so much time around the equipment, she jumped into service pulling the pumper through the heavy snow and fought the blaze. She became part of the volunteers answering the call for firefighters. Molly was known for her strength, toughness, and ability to help as well as any of the men. The men of Oceanus Engine Co. said of Molly; she was "as good a fire laddie as many of the boys" and declared her "volunteer No. 11" an unofficial member.'

A children's book titled "Molly, by Golly" tells her tale.


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