CINCINNATI — Vincent Smith was just 5 years old in 1955, when his uncle Herbert Scott Bane Jr. officially joined the Cincinnati Fire Department.
Still, Smith remembers the day clearly: The anxiety his grandmother felt about her son’s new path, the name-calling Bane had faced throughout his training and, finally, the excitement of knowing Bane had become Cincinnati’s first-ever black firefighter.
“The city needs examples like him,” Smith said Tuesday afternoon. “Everybody needs examples like him.”
Bane died in late February while living abroad in the Phillippines. He was 83 years old.
His nephew, to whom he was “Uncle Juny,” remembered him Tuesday for the determination that carried him from the Marine Corps to the Cincinnati Fire Department to an international career educating developing countries about building their own firefighting networks.
But he was more than that inspirational story, Smith added. He had a kind heart, a gregarious personality and a love of nicknames. As a child, Smith quickly became “Venison Burger” to his uncle; his father, who stood 6-feet-4-inches and weighed 320 pounds, had been “Tank” for as long as anyone can remember.
“He was just a huge resource of history and entertainment — he was a funny, hilarious guy,” Smith said of Bane. “My best memories of knowing anybody was knowing him.”
That lighthearted nature distracted from the seriousness of the responsibility he and the rest of the department’s earliest black firefighters had shouldered, said Cincinnati African-American Firefighter Association president Raffel Prophett.
“All three of the first three African-Americans — Herbert Bane, Cole Flowers and Ali McGee — all talked about how stressful it was because of the racial strife that plagued us at that time,” he said. “He is our Jackie Robinson. He is the person who we stand on his shoulders.”
Although Prophett never met Bane, he said he felt Bane’s legacy was motivation for every black firefighter in the city to work hard, strive for equality and making the Cincinnati Police Department better.