LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A museum in downtown Los Angeles is honoring those who have broken barriers in the world of firefighting.

As CBS2’s Stephanie Simmons reports, the walls of the African American Firefighter Museum on Central Avenue depict years of service and dedication.

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(credit: Stephanie Simmons/CBS)

(credit: Stephanie Simmons/CBS)

“Our last four fire chiefs have been black,” said Jimmy Smith, who was once a fire safety director. He now serves as a docent to the museum, which is free to the public, and a first of its kind in the United States.

Smith says the man who paved the way for black firefighters in L.A. was Sam Haskins, who was formally a slave in Virginia. No known pictures of him exist.

“The fact that he was the first black firefighter, that opened the door,” he explained.

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Another trailblazer is Delisha Davies, the first black female firefighter in L.A. She joined the department in 1983.

“She’s in her 31st year and she’s a captain with the fire department,” Smith said.

The museum also illustrates the history of segregation and discrimination.

“There were people there who didn’t appreciate, didn’t like the fact that they were allowing blacks to come on board, because they didn’t want us being portrayed, having that level of authority,” Smith said.

Before 1954, in some stations, if a black firefighter wanted to go to the second floor, they weren’t allowed to use the stairs or the elevator. They actually had to shimmy up a pole, which was sometimes coated with butter as a cruel joke.

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The museum offers museum-goers the ability to take a trip through history, gaining a better understanding of the struggles and successes of black firefighters in L.A. and across the country.