Pioneering firefighter credits family of firsts to lots of hard work

Darick Rhodes
Submitted photos

In 2005, the film “Animal” starring Ving Rhames as Animal and Terrence Howard as his son Darius was released. Darius fell into gang life while his father was incarcerated as if to carry on the family tradition.  

This movie displayed how without proper guidance from the parent, or willingness to obtain an education, the cycle of poverty and social disenfranchisement will continue. The Black community is especially vulnerable to this generational cycle of dysfunction. 

“You only do what you see,” said Darick Rhodes, a prominent 20-year veteran firefighter, chief and captain for the Bloomington Fire Department who recently retired. 

The Minneapolis native, raised on Chicago and Franklin avenues, actually had another career in mind before becoming a fireman. His first career choice was to join law enforcement like other members of his family. 

“I actually come from a long line of law enforcement. My grandfather [Walter Rhodes] was the first Black [Minneapolis police officer]. My uncles were cops,” he said while also noting that his cousins [the Howells] own Shiloh Temple International Ministries, a staple on the city’s North Side.

A photo of Minneapolis mailman Tyler Howell in 1945

Additionally, Rhodes’ cousin Tyler Howell was the first Black mailman in the City of Minneapolis in 1945 after returning from the war as an army sergeant. His grandfather on his mother’s side, James Hughes, was the first Black foreman (supervisor and director) of St Paul’s Twin Cities Assembly Plant in 1968. 

Another cousin, Jennifer Albright Foster, was the first Black woman officer at the Brooklyn Park Police Department. His uncle, Frank Foster (father of Jennifer Alright Foster), developed and started the Harley Davidson motorcycle division of St. Paul and was also head of security for the Minnesota Vikings.  

Darick’s father Maurice Rhodes graduated from the University of Minnesota and worked as a supervisor for an electric company. “Watching my dad wake up at five in the morning and not get home until five at night, seeing my grandparents get up and go to work as they took care of me after my mother died,” Rhodes recalled, “that’s what I saw growing up—all the men in my family were hard workers.”

Ironically, just as he was about to enter the Minneapolis police force himself, a violent turn of events occurred in the city—the September 25, 1992 killing of 30-year police veteran Jerry Haaf, who was shot in the back at a pizza shack on Lake Street. 

With intense racial tensions between civilians and cops similar to current conditions, it was reported that the Vice Lords gang shot Haaf in retaliation for an incident between cops and a blind Black man on Metro Transit. 

“I was like, ‘Oh no, I gotta pick something else,’” Rhodes decided. He recalled his uncle then advising him to look into the firefighter field.  

Joining the Bloomington Fire Department in 2001, Rhodes said, “They didn’t have any brothas in the department then. I was the only one for 10 years,” he chuckled in recollection.  

Rhodes said his father always instilled in him that “self-accountability is number one.” I come in an hour before work every day,” Rhodes said. “It gives me more time to prepare so everything is already done before work starts.”  

He carried this work ethic with him as he continued training for his fire courses. “I didn’t go to college; I took courses through the fire department. I just felt like it wasn’t for me,” Rhodes said.  

One of the key rules Rhodes lived by while doing his job was “It’s never about color, just skills, and hard work. No matter what community I’m in. You don’t pick and choose whose life you want to save.”  

Rhodes recalled that one of the most notable moments of his firefighter career was working 96 hours during the George Floyd riots in May of 2020. “Seeing the devastation, I cried when I seen what they were doing to my city,” Rhodes remembered. “Being on the fire department, I know everybody in the city, and I don’t know none of y’all! These weren’t our people [causing the destruction in the city],” he said.

Other notable moments: the I-35W bridge collapse on August 1, 2007, and even more so Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans, Louisiana, in August of 2005. 

“We were flown in by Youthside with the Minneapolis task force,” Rhodes said. “We were the fighters who stayed in their fire stations while the hometown firefighters went home because they didn’t have any homes, so they had to go handle their stuff.” 

He noted that the experience was a “game-changer” in his firefighting career and raised awareness of social discrepancies. “That’s when I seen America really didn’t care about us at all, bruh. They didn’t help any of the families at all!” Rhodes said he still visits friends in Louisiana.  

Another notable moment for Rhodes was a more teachable one. “I was doing fire prevention in Minneapolis, and I took a picture of the cabin and a few other items. I asked the children, `Who do you think owns this?’” 

He said the kids gave answers such as basketball players and drug dealers. “The look on their faces when I told them a fireman owns this!” Rhodes recalled. 

“We never set out to be the first Black of anything,” Rhodes said. “We were just hard workers. Dedicated with hard work.”