|Updated: 9/22 1:50 am
||Published: 9/22 1:41 am
There's only one station left in Tulsa that looks like the station Chief Merle Stripling first worked at. The fire trucks sit in the middle of two very distinct sides that were used to segregate the firefighters.
These are odds Stripling overcame to become one of TFD's most decorated firefighters.
Those he worked with describe him as driven and innovative and say he was always looking toward the next step.
Stripling knew what it was like to have the odds stacked against him. He was hired by the Tulsa Fire Department back in 1956, when blacks didn't have as many rights as whites.
Still he pushed forward.
"He was the first black fire equipment operator, and he was the first black captain for the Tulsa Fire Department, and he was the first black chief," said his friend, Bob Kendrick.
For 13 years while Stripling was chief, Kendrick was his driver. More than anything, Stripling taught Kendrick to appreciate the job.
"I loved the fire department from the day I hired on until the day I left," Kendrick told FOX23.
Stripling has also touched the next generation of Tulsa firefighters.
Victor Grimes is living his dream today because of Stripling.
"He was the first one that I saw looked like me who had on a white shirt and a gold badge indicating that he was a chief," Grimes said.
Furthermore, Stripling's great niece Cledella Evans is Tulsa's first African-American female firefighter.
"I used to try to downplay it, but now I think it's wonderful to know that I am a part of such a great legacy."
A legacy many in TFD will remember.
Stripling served with the department for 30 years.
Services will be Friday, September Sept. 27th at Saint Monica Catholic Church in Tulsa at 11 a.m.