The victim of Wednesday’s fatal fire inside a Delaware Avenue apartment building was a respected college professor known in the community for his passion in promoting Buffalo’s African-American heritage.
Felix L. Armfield, a professor of history and social education at SUNY Buffalo State, was pulled from the fire inside the Commodore Apartments at 1240 Delaware Ave. but died soon afterward, sources said Thursday.
He was 51.
Buffalo State sent out an email Thursday informing staff and faculty of Armfield’s death, although the college did not mention the cause.
“His students were the primary beneficiaries of his scholarship,” said Andrew Nicholls, professor and chairman of the history and social studies education department.
“Many of his students commented on the depth of his knowledge and his willingness to provide individual attention to each student,” Nicholls said. “He brought a commitment to sharing the lived experience of ordinary Americans to his scholarship and teaching. He was a valued member of our faculty, and we are deeply saddened by this tragic news.”
The three-alarm fire broke out in Armfield’s fourth-floor apartment at about 9 p.m. Wednesday, Buffalo fire officials said.
Fire investigators have made a preliminary conclusion that there was nothing suspicious about the fire, but an investigation into the cause was continuing.
Upward of 70 residents of the five-story apartment building had to flee the fire, which caused an estimated $600,000 damage. Tenants were allowed to return to their apartments Wednesday night.
“It was a labor-intensive operation. There were no sprinklers or standpipes. We had to carry hoses up,” said Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield Jr. “The fire happened in the man’s apartment, and it was basically gutted. Damage was extensive there and to the apartment above it.”
Lynn M. Gannon, director of residential leasing for Ellicott Development, which owns and operates the apartment building, said, “We express our sincerest condolences to the family of Mr. Armfield. We are all saddened by this whole situation.”
A native of North Carolina, Armfield earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from North Carolina Central University, before receiving his doctorate from Michigan State University, according to Buffalo State.
Before coming to Buffalo, Armfield was an assistant professor at Western Illinois University.
His expertise was in U.S. and African-American history, and included the books “Black Life in West Central Illinois” and “Eugene Kinckle Jones: The National Urban League and Black Social Work, 1910–1940.” His research into the life of African-Americans in the Midwest led to the publication of “Fire on the Prairies: The 1895 Spring Valley Race Riot” in the Journal of Illinois History.
He joined the Buffalo State faculty in 2000.
On campus, Armfield also served as associate director of the Monroe Fordham Regional History Center. He was a member of the African and African-American Interdisciplinary Studies Unit and the graduate faculty. At the time of his death, he was working on a history of Buffalo State.
Off campus, Armfield immersed himself in Buffalo’s black history. He helped establish African-American ancestral heritage tours at Forest Lawn. He served as an executive board member of the Michigan Street Preservation Corp., where he worked on the Nash House Restoration Project.
“It’s been a long time coming. ‘Exuberance’ is the only thing I can say,” Armfield told The Buffalo News during the unveiling of the Nash House Museum in 2007. “There were times when I just wondered if this day would actually get here.”
Armfield received a number of awards for his teaching and service, including the Hero Award from the Disability Services Office, the Students’ Award for the Promotion of Respect for Diversity and Individual Differences, and the William Wells Brown Award from the Afro-American Historical Association of the Niagara Frontier.
He is survived by his sister, Kimberly. Information on funeral services was not available Thursday.