BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Baltimore City Fire Department is mourning the loss of Herman Williams, Jr., the city’s first African-American fire chief.

The city fire department tweeted about Williams’ death on Sunday, calling him a “champion, pioneer & agent of change” who will be “truly missed.”

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Williams’ son, TV host Montel Williams, was among those who paid tribute to the former chief, saying his father was a man “whose shoes were truly too big” to fill.

Mayor Brandon Scott said Williams “embodied the true spirit of public service.”

“The difference he made blazing the trial for Black firefighters to serve in [the Baltimore City Fire Department] and his unwavering commitment to our residents and the City of Baltimore will always be remembered,” the mayor said in part.

Chief Williams, who had a fire house named after him in 2003, served the city for more than 47 years, according to the fire department.

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After joining the city fire department in 1954, Williams was promoted to lieutenant in 1967. He became a captain in 1974 and a battalion chief in 1977.

Williams left the department in 1980 for an executive role with the Department of Public Works, where he developed the agency’s apprenticeship program along with its equal opportunity and affirmative action policies.

In 1992, Williams was appointed as chief of the Baltimore City Fire Department. In that role, he established a series of innovative initiatives, including the city’s smoke detector program, which is credited with saving lives.

Williams retired from the fire department in February 2001, though he remained involved in the community through his roles with the Municipal Employees Credit Union and the Municipal Golf Association.

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The Baltimore City firefighters union extended its condolences to Williams’ loved ones, saying his passing marked a sad day for its members.

CBS Baltimore Staff