‘He’s our father and we’re proud of him’: Charlotte’s first Black firefighter dies at 77

“He was my role model, my hero. He taught me everything I know.”
Hazel Erwin became Charlotte Fire Department's first Black firefighter in the 1960s.
Published: May. 13, 2022 at 11:55 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Hazel Erwin’s family is hoping to honor their father by educating the community about his trailblazing accomplishment of integrating the Charlotte Fire Department.

Erwin was born in 1944 and integrated the Charlotte Fire Department in the 1960s. He was the first Black firefighter hired by the department. Erwin died earlier this week after a battle with cancer. He was 77 years old.

According to Daryl Erwin, Hazel Erwin’s son, Hazel was a loving father and grandfather who cared deeply for his family.

“He was my role model, my hero. He taught me everything I know,” said Daryl Erwin.

Daryl Erwin explained that while his father served Charlotte for several years as a firefighter, he never wanted special recognition for breaking the color barrier at the Charlotte Fire Department.

“He was just humble. He didn’t care for the accolades and all that other stuff. He was just like hey, I was the first Black firemen,” said Daryl Erwin.

David Taylor, the second Black firefighter hired by the CFD, said he was close friends with Hazel Erwin and explained that integrating the department was not easy for Hazel.

“There were challenges. There were slurs. There were statements. There were jokes that you overheard. They wouldn’t say it directly to you, but you got the inferences,” said Taylor.

He explained that Hazel was able to acclimate with the other firefighters at the department because of his perseverance and pleasant demeanor.

“He had the kind of personality that he could be successful in any environment. This guy had a ready smile and he never met a stranger. He could talk to anybody about anything. He used to say, ‘I will kill them with kindness,’” explained Taylor.

He credits his friend for blazing a path for other minority firefighters in Charlotte.

“He bore the brunt of everything. He made it possible for several hundred other folks to come behind him sooner than later. He was successful so the community said other Black firefighters could be successful as well,” said Taylor.

Hazel Erwin’s funeral will be held this coming Monday at New Waves of Joy Baptist Church in Charlotte. Visitation is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Services will take place immediately after the visitation period. Community members are invited to attend the services.

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