Topeka Fifty-eight years after he died in the line of duty, Topeka firefighters Tuesday honored Lt. William R. “Billy” Frazier with a memorial ceremony and the dedication of a new headstone at his final resting place, which previously was marked only by a small bronze plaque.
The featured speaker for the event held in Topeka Cemetery was Joe Douglas Jr., who served under Frazier from 1950 to 1952 and went on to become Topeka’s first black fire chief.
“It’s just a warm, warm feeling that I have knowing that his grave has a stone now and that there are people who really cared about his existence,” Douglas told those on hand.
Douglas said he met Frazier nearly 60 years ago on Oct. 16, 1950, Douglas’ first day with the fire department.
“He was really one of my mentors,” Douglas said.
Frazier, who was black, served with the department at a time when its black and white firefighters were segregated. He and Douglas — who went on to serve as fire chief from 1983 until he retired in 1989 — worked out of Fire Station No. 3.
Frazier, 72, had been with the fire department for 43 years when he died Feb. 29, 1952, after suffering a fractured skull. He fell through a fire pole hole at Station No. 3 after being awakened at 12:15 a.m. by an alarm signalling firefighters to respond to a call. Frazier dashed to the second-floor fire pole to lower himself to the first floor but missed his grip and fell 15 feet.
While researching the Topeka Fire Department’s history last year, Capt. Ty Christian determined Frazier was among six Topeka firefighters who have died in the line of duty.
Christian and Investigator James “Rusty” Vollintine subsequently went to Frazier’s gravesite, where they dug about a foot into the ground and found a small bronze plaque bearing his name and indicating he lived from 1879 to 1952.