Amid fanfare at a ceremony at Boston Fire Department headquarters in Roxbury, officials named an African-American Monday as deputy chief for the first time in the department’s 300-year history.
Andre Stallworth, 44, of Bellingham, a popular department veteran who spent spare time poring over books on firefighting, was promoted from district chief to one of the department’s highest ranks.
Stallworth aced the competitive civil service promotion exam, beating out other candidates, officials said. He celebrated with his wife, parents, and two of his three children and said the promotion is an important step.
“I’m grateful to stand on the shoulders of those who came before me,’’ Stallworth said in a phone interview after the ceremony. “I know a lot of people made it possible for me to be here, who paved the way for me.”
Acting Fire Commissioner John Hasson hailed the promotion as a great day for the department. Hasson praised Stallworth for his hard work, dedication, and years of study.
“It shows that the department offers an opportunity for everybody,’’ Hasson said. “It shows that with hard work and dedication you can get to any grade you want.”
In his new role, Stallworth will serve as fire marshal and head the department’s fire prevention division. Based at 1010 Massachusetts Ave., he will oversee code enforcement, permitting, education, and inspection.
“It’s tremendous,’’ said Lieutenant Rayshawn Johnson, president of the Boston Society of Vulcans, which advocates for the recruitment, retention, and promotion of black firefighters. “This lets some of these younger firefighters know that they can aspire to be a deputy on the job.”
Stallworth, a 23-year veteran of the force, grew up in Roxbury and went to the James P. Timilty Middle School, which has a storied reputation of honing young black boys. He was raised in Roxbury near Columbus Avenue. “You learned to keep your head down and your nose to the grind,’’ he said.
He knew early that he wanted a way up to something better, he said. After graduating from high school in Charlestown, he joined the Army Reserve and then the Fire Department in 1991, getting his start in firefighting at Grove Hall’s Ladder 23, one of the busiest fire houses in the city.
During his two decades in the department, Stallworth built a reputation as a team builder, a hard worker, and a person who never gives up.
“He always had his head in the books,’’ said Richard F. Paris, president of Boston Firefighters Local 718, who has known Stallworth since 1991.
Stallworth said he took nine civil service promotional exams to climb through the ranks and was successful in four. He moved up from lieutenant to captain to district chief and now deputy chief.
He would go to a local McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts to read books on hydraulics, fire science, building construction, and state general laws.
“People said it’s so noisy; how can you study there?’’ said Stallworth. “But it was the interruption that helped me.”
He got joy from walking into an exam room knowing he could compete and eventually beat the other test-takers, he said. “Where other people study for such things like power, I studied for the joy of the competition,’’ he said. "I studied because I liked it.”
Paris, the union chief, said the strain of studying can be a deterrent, and many people quit because it is tough. But Stallworth stuck with it.
“He earned it,’’ Parish said of the promotion. “He studied hard. It wasn’t given to him.”
Stallworth’s promotion comes six days after Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced his administration is launching a national search for a new fire commissioner and as the Society of Vulcans begins its push to help increase the pool of new minority candidates.Meghan E. Irons can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.