Lt. James Elijah Bethea, safety officer, was a 41-year veteran of the Baltimore City Fire Department. His job was to ensure no hazardous conditions threatened the lives of firefighters or the public. Over the course of his career, he served in myriad roles, including FireFighter I and II, emergency vehicle driver, pump operator, lieutenant, and safety officer. Lt. Bethea was an iconic and ubiquitous figure in the department. He worked at several fire houses in Baltimore City and served as the senior safety officer for 10 years until his death. He was an outstanding firefighter and safety officer, dedicated and committed to providing first class safety and fire protection for BCFD’s 1600 members and the citizens of Baltimore.
Lt. Bethea received extensive training during his career, including specific training in the areas of hazardous materials, SCBA, protective envelope training, fire and arson investigation, incident command, NIMS, national response framework, EMS, and fire suppression.
Lt. Bethea was enamored with the world of firefighting. He began his employment with the Baltimore City Fire Department on April 4, 1973, via a class action suit presided by U.S. Judge Joseph Young, who determined that BCFD had engaged in racially discriminatory employment practices that excluded African American candidates from the fire service. Judge Young ordered that a class of cadets be recruited with the condition that said class include 25-30% African American members. In the end, Lt. Bethea ranked 5th out of a class of nineteen cadets. He was a methodical firefighter and safety officer with a superior work ethic, and he served as a mentor to many fire service members. During his illustrious tenure, he received numerous certifications, awards and recognition.
Born in Baltimore Maryland, on January 9, 1952, he received his early education at Harlem Park Elementary, Pimlico Junior High School, and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. He continued his academic pursuits at Morgan State University, where he was a math major and a member of the Pershing Rifles – an Army ROTC drill team. James enjoyed fishing, playing basketball, baseball, and chess. He possessed an eclectic musical interest in jazz, reggae, zydeco, and rock. He was an avid golfer and world traveler. James was a selfless champion of Moravia-Walther Improvement Association, platelet and organ donation, breast cancer awareness, youth golf programs, public radio, and Box 414. He was also a lifelong member of the Vulcan Blazers, Inc.
Lt. Bethea was survived and beloved by his wife of 30 years, Dr. Brenda Pridgen; his parents, James and Margarine Bethea; his son, Darryl A. Bethea; his sister, Darlene Bethea; and one grandson, Ethan James Bethea. He is also survived by numerous aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, cousins, friends, and colleagues.