GRFD welcomes first black battalion chief

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) —  Among the 13 Grand Rapids firefighters with new titles and new responsibilities is the city’s first African American battalion chief.

Eric Freeman, a 27 year veteran of the Grand Rapids Fire Department has become the highest ranking black firefighter in the department’s history.

Freeman grew up in Grand Rapids. He was 19, just out of high school, when he joined the “family business.”

Freeman’s father, Norman Hobson, retired from the department in 2007.

“He provided an example for me to be able to follow. And that’s what it’s really all about, is following the examples of others. Having the support of people,” Freeman said.

Freeman rose through the ranks, not only fighting fires, but as a member of the department’s hazardous materials, technical rescue, confined space rescue and extrication teams.

While you may think his promotion as the city’s first African American battalion chief was too long in coming, Freeman says the department is making headway.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem with the city. I think it’s growth.

“Sometimes growth takes time. In Grand Rapids, maybe it’s taken a little longer than it has in other places, but that’s where we’re at now. We’re here,” said Freeman.

Along with honing his technical skills, Freeman has also served as a recruiter for the department, working to expose young people to a job they may never have considered. 

“We’re out there, putting our faces out there, talking to people in this city to continue to (push) this as an occupation, as something they can do to give back to their city,” Freeman explained.

“Trying to make this department look like the community we serve, that’s a continued mission of the fire department,” he added. 

The Grand Rapids Fire Department has two battalion chiefs on during a 24-hour shift.  At a fire scene, the battalion chief is in charge of coordinating efforts and deciding if more equipment and personnel are needed.

Battalion chiefs also watch conditions for changes firefighters inside battling the flames may not know about, which could turn dangerous.

“But they also take care of the troops,” said Freeman. “They take care of the people who are in their battalion and make sure whatever their needs are, they’re met. It’s a weighty responsibility, but one I embrace.”

Friday’s promotions ceremony took place at the city’s Franklin Street firehouse. New badges were awarded to Freeman, five captains, four lieutenants and four equipment operators.

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