This piece of Sacramento history was found in a thrift store. It’s now on display

The Sacramento Fire Department is paying tribute to its first African American fire chief with a new installation displaying the helmet of former Fire Chief Raymond J. Charles.

The leather helmet will be on a permanent display at the City of Sacramento’s Public Safety Headquarters on Freeport Boulevard. 

The story of how the Sacramento Fire Department obtained Charles’ helmet is an unusual one.

A reseller recently found Charles’ helmet at a thrift store in Wilmington, Del., and decided to auction it online. It is unknown how the helmet found its way to Delaware. 

The Sacramento Fire Department learned of the auction, and in partnership with the Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522, was able to offer the winning bid. 

“We jumped at the opportunity to bring this important piece of department history home and honor the legacy of Ray Charles,” said Fire Chief Gary Loesch.

The helmet sits in a section of the public safety building along with photos and other memorabilia from Charles’ time at the department. The building also features a “hall of honor” named after the former fire chief. 

Charles served with the Sacramento Fire Department for 29 years. In 1986, he made history when he became the City’s first African American fire chief. His leadership was critical during the flooding that occurred that same year, officials said. 

During his tenure, Charles started the fourth battalion for Sacramento Fire. He also helped to modernize the department’s fire prevention, disaster and emergency planning.

A role model and a mentor for many, Charles retired from the Sacramento Fire Department in 1989. He passed away on Dec. 15, 2020.  

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