1925 – 2019
More than a century after the Kansas City Fire Department was established, Edward Wade Wilson became its first African American chief, capping a trailblazing career of nearly 46 years. Born in Parsons, Kansas, Wilson moved with his family to Kansas City during his elementary school years and attended R.T. Coles and Lincoln high schools.
After graduating in 1943, he joined the fire department as a cadet but soon left to fight with the U.S. Army in Germany during World War II. Upon returning to firefighting, he rose from fire motor operator to captain by age 23. No one so young had previously achieved that rank.
Wilson was promoted to battalion chief in 1960 and deputy chief in 1975. He set another, more important precedent with his appointment as chief in 1980. His tenure encompassed the Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse in 1981 and the deaths of six firemen in a construction site explosion in 1988.
Wilson retired from the department in 1989, going on to work as an insurance investigator and for The Kansas City Star.