CHARLOTTE — Charlotte said its final farewell to a man and mentor who served and protected his community.
Hazel Erwin, the first African-American member of the Charlotte Fire Department, was laid to rest Monday. His impact reached not only those who knew him best, but also complete strangers trying to make a name for themselves in the same field.
Erwin was a major influence to other Black men and encouraged others to join as firefighters.
“He was stoic, quiet guy—very silly,” Erwin’s grandson, Jahrell Dargan, recalled. “Honestly didn’t even know he was the first Black firefighter. He didn’t talk about it at all.”
Erwin was a quiet leader who made a big impression. He already had experience fighting fires while he was in the Air Force, and in 1967, he became the first African-American member of the Charlotte Fire Department. The department still has the engine he drove.
David Taylor told Channel 9 he joined the CFD because of Erwin, and eventually, Erwin became his mentor.
“He didn’t want to be discredited so he worked hard at it and he was very successful, and he helped me a lot of the way,” Taylor said. “He identified the land mines, and the people to avoid.”
Taylor was the department’s first Black battalion chief and then lieutenant. He retired as a deputy chief.
“I had a young family, he had a young family and I was looking for something to improve my socioeconomic situation and he did — the fire department was a major step. And he was a big part of it,” Taylor said.
On Monday, friends and family came to say goodbye to Hazel Erwin. He died at the age of 77 from lung cancer. Many of those in attendance were African-American fire department employees who had followed in Erwin’s footsteps.
“It’s heartwarming – and we thank Hazel Erwin for that,” Taylor said. “His success meant that other minorities were employed sooner rather than later.”
Family was very important to Hazel Erwin. He was always willing to help his friends spend more time with their own families. David Taylor said when his third child was born, Erwin covered some of his shifts and donated PTO for Taylor to use so he could spend more time with his family.
For Jahrell Dargan, he’ll remember his grandfather as someone who put family first. He’s comforted knowing Erwin will always remain a part of Charlotte’s history.
“Very proud to know that he’s someone who has pretty much taught me about who I am,” Dargan said.
(WATCH BELOW: ‘Took care of his community’: Firefighters remember long-time Burke County fire chief who died)
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