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      A Midlands man breaking down barriers while fighting fires

      COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Retired Captain Abram Coles Junior is one of the first of eight African-American men to join the Columbia fire department back in 1953.

      Captain Coles recalls a number of segregated incidents.

      â??We could not use bathrooms in the fire stations. They took us down to headquarters for six weeks of training and we couldn't go inside to use the water fountain or bathroom,â?? said Coles.

      Coles said despite the treatment, he and the other men were determined to push forward.

      Current Columbia Richland Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins said Captain Coles trained him and taught him much of what he knows about being a firefighter.

      â??They were trendsetters. Iâ??m just a path walker because Iâ??m walking in the path that they already set," said Chief Jenkins.

      Jenkins says by the time he joined the fire department racial tensions were not as inflamed as they were during Coles' day.

      â??They went through alot. Just listening to the stories they would tell, they went through alot and Iâ??m just glad they didn't quit because had they quit, I don't know where I would be today,â?? said Chief Jenkins.

      The young Chief Jenkins remembers battling a blaze at the farmers market back in 1984 and when he had to help remove a body from a wooded area.

      Chief Jenkins says he'll never forget the fire that almost killed him.

      â??The floor gave way and the fire was under me and I had to grab hold to a window in order to keep from falling through the floor. Grabbing that window I actually cut my hand up but it was better to be cut up then to be burned up," said Chief Jenkins.

      As years went by, Jenkins started to receive accolades for his dedication to the job and would eventually become the first African-American fire chief of the department.

      â??It gives you a sense of pride not puffed up pride but youâ??re just glad to be in that number it just overwhelms you. Even now when I sit in my office, Iâ??m like you know what? This is for real you are the fire chief," said Chief Jenkins.

      It is something Coles and the others did not see coming, but fought for anyway.

      â??Iâ??m delighted. He was the best qualified man and for the position,â?? said Coles.

      Coles is 85-years-old and the only surviving member of the first original eight African-Americans who joined the fire department in 1953.