By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Thanking Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. for helping to save lives and their union during the 1980 fire strike, Kevin Betton, president of the African American Firefighters & Paramedic League, June 14, presented Jackson with a “Lifetime Achievements” award for his mediation skills that prevented more deaths.
During that strike, 23 people died, Betton said and more could have died had the strike not ended. Saying he is standing on the shoulders of giants, living eternally in the red trying to repay a debt he can never repay, Betton ticked off several names of retired firemen like Jim Winbush, a retired fire captain and founder of the League in 1967, Nicholas Russell, retired deputy fire commissioner and past president of the League, Rich Ford, II, he labeled “the next commissioner of the Chicago Fire Department, Anthony Frazier, known as Cool Aid, who is vice president of the League and Rich Falls, retired ambulance commander.
Betton said they were there to “right a wrong” and to honor Rev. Jackson for all that he did for the League. ‘He ended the strike, saved the union and brought everyone back together. He has never said no to us for anything, and we want to honor him tonight with all of the giants on the stage.”
The award praised Rev. Jackson “for a life of dedicated service to the advancement of black people.”
Winbush said, “Rev. Jackson saved the Chicago Firefighters Union. It would have collapsed if he had not done this,” he said mentioning the late Ed Riddick and the late Rev. Willie Taplin Barrow and himself on the negotiating team. Absolutely, Rev.. Jackson saved this entire city form burning. Twenty-three people died in 23 days and Rev. Jackson turned the entire tide. That was 40-years ago.”
Rev. Jackson asked how many firefighters are there in Chicago. Betton said less than 800. When asked how many captains are there, the firemen said out of 137, there are 33 black captains. “We cannot settle” for these results.” Jackson turned to the firemen and said, “Your house is still burning.” “We have a fight on our hands,” Jackson said thanking them for the award.