Through hard work and dedication to his community, Charles Atkins became the first African American to be appointed as the chief of the Vicksburg Fire Department.
Born and raised in Vicksburg, Atkins graduated from Vicksburg High School in 1974. From there, he attended Hinds Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi, where he graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in health and science.
After successfully finishing his higher education degree, Atkins began substitute teaching for about five years and decided to join the VFD in 1982 in order to help support his grandmother.
Although he would eventually be in high ranks, Atkins would work with the rescue crew for 10 years where he experienced going into tough situations that sometimes resulted in death.
“One of my hardest calls was responding to a car accident scene where a 18-wheeler dismantled a care where a father and son died in the process and that was very devastating to see,” Atkins said.
In the 1990s, Atkins responded to a scene where a man was trapped underneath his midsized truck and was covered in ants but luckily Atkins and his crew were able to rescue the man and he survived the accident.
By 1994, Atkins was promoted as the training officer where he was in charge of training new recruits and working on recertification for the veteran firefighters. He remained as a training officer for 15 years from 1994 to 2009 where he would soon gain his highest rank.
Newly elected Mayor Paul Winfield appointed Atkins as the first black Fire Chief in 2009 where he would be in charge of the biggest department in city hall.
“The transition was tough because I went from taking orders to giving orders,” Atkins said.
“One of the difficult things was having to tell guys that you served with for many years that they were wrong in certain situations,” Atkins said.
The 2011 flood was one of Chief Atkins’s most memorable moments as Chief, where he had to convince some residents to leave their homes who didn’t want to leave but it was necessary for their own safety.
Atkins continued as Fire Chief for eight years from 2009 until his retirement in 2017, and many people felt proud and safe to have someone like him running the department.
Today, Atkins is enjoying his retirement and continues to help people in the community. He also picked up the hobby of race walking and continues to stay in good shape.
“I would like to thank my grandmother for stepping in and having a big part of my life while I was growing up and I also want to thank God for everything,” Atkins said.
The city of Vicksburg will always be in debt to Atkins for his willingness to serve and do a great job as Chief. He will always be a great part of Vicksburg’s history, not only as the first and only black Fire Chief, but also a human with a great heart.See a typo? Report it here.