Family, firefighters remember Jeffersonville’s first African-American fire chief

Family, firefighters remember Jeffersonville’s first African-American fire chief
Ronnie Collins was the first African American chief of the Jeffersonville Fire Department.
Ronnie Collins was the first African American chief of the Jeffersonville Fire Department. (Source: Family photo)

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WAVE) - Ronnie Collins, who made history as the first African American chief of the Jeffersonville Fire Department, passed away last Friday.

Collins fought a long battle with leukemia after his retirement from the department. He died at age 75.

“My father was small in stature but bigger than life,” Collins’ son Michael said. “Always really brought the best out of people, my dad was a really great guy.”

Since his father’s funeral Wednesday, Michael is learning more and more about the ways his dad impacted the Jeffersonville Fire Department.

Retired Maj. Leslie Kavanaugh worked alongside Collins for most of their careers.

“Ron and I actually grew up together,” Kavanaugh said. “We were boyhood friends, little did either of us realize that all roads led to the fire department.”

They worked their way up through the ranks together. Collins was named chief in 1984.

“The total community was proud of the fact that Ron Collins was selected chief of the Jeffersonville Fire Department, not just the black community,” Kavanaugh said.

Collins is credited with being the first community liaison in the department -- before it was even an official position -- putting a fire truck at every fun event in the city so the public could see firefighters in a positive place.

“He was the first guy to get out of the firehouse, so to speak,” Kavanaugh said. “To get out into the community as opposed to the community coming in here or you seeing us just on a response. I think that was the forerunner of where we are today with an excellent program here with the Jeffersonville Fire Department.”

The retired chief’s favorite place to be was DisneyWorld with his family. But, his family knows the fire department was home, too.

“A few days ago I was heartbroken, really distraught,” Michael said. “Since the past few days, meeting all of the brotherhood in the fire department, seeing them come out and the magnificent home-going services, it really gives me this good feeling to know how many people loved and cared about my father.”

Copyright 2019 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.