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Street Named for AFR's First Black Firefighter

City of Aurora dedicates 16th Avenue in honor of AFR’s first African-American firefighter
Posted on 10/13/2023
Picture of Ruben Sims Jr

A portion of East 16th Avenue will be named Ruben Sims Jr. Avenue to posthumously honor Aurora Fire Rescue’s first African-American firefighter, the City of Aurora announced today. An honorary street sign will be erected between Florence Street and Emporia Street, bordering AFR’s historic Fire Station No. 1 and within one of the most ethnically diverse and historic areas of Aurora.

Aurora Mayor Pro Tem Curtis Gardner unveiled the honorary sign at a dedication ceremony held today at the station, located at 9801 E. 16th Avenue. Gardner sponsored a resolution for the honorary street sign that was approved by the Aurora City Council on September 25.

“As an advocate for public safety in Aurora, I was proud to bring forward the resolution to honor Mr. Sims, who broke the color barrier and acted as the forerunner for racial minorities within AFR,” said Gardner. “This honorary street sign celebrates this extraordinary icon for diversity within the fire department and the city of Aurora.”

Ruben Lewis Sims, Jr., was born to Vivian Fae and Ruben Lewis Sims, Sr., on November 11, 1949. He attended Smiley Junior High School and graduated from Manual High School. Sims played clarinet throughout his youth and attended the Berklee College of Music before serving in the U.S. Army. During his service with the Army, he wrote music for the NORAD band, which included musicians from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Two years after his honorary discharge from the Army, he joined the Aurora Fire Department. Sims served as a firefighter and engineer for the department from 1977 until his retirement in 1997, primarily serving at AFR’s Station No. 2 and No. 8. During his career, he contributed to recruiting programs designed to attract racial minorities to the fire department and participated in cultural celebrations in the community, such as the Juneteenth Parade and Black Arts Festival. Sims died of cancer on September 11, 2006, at the age of 55.

“Mr. Sims was a cheerful and beloved member of Aurora Firefighters’ Local 1290 who gave his life for his community as a first responder,” said Travis Pulliam, president of the Local 1290 firefighter’s union representing AFR. “It is likely that the cancer which took his life was the result of his many years of exposure to carcinogens while fighting fires.”

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