The history of fire protection in Wake
County, North Carolina is almost as old as the area itself.
Planners of the first town- Raleigh, created in 1792 as the
new state capital- were well aware of the dangers to wooden
structures with minimal water supplies. They created the four
principal streets 99 feet wide, and all others within the
5/8-mile town limits 66 feet wide, to prevent fires from
spreading between blocks. Early protective ordinances were
passed, such as one prohibiting porches, platforms, or other
wooden structures from being added to building fronts. As
early as 1802, citizens "subscribed" to the purchase
price of Raleigh's first fire engine. Alas, the hand-powered
pump, capable of throwing 80 gallons of water a minute a
distance of 44 yards, was apparently never purchased. Instead,
fires were fought by more traditional means-buckets of water
or sand, or even with blasting powder, as was used on June 18,
1816, when 51 buildings in the first two blocks of
Fayetteville Street burned.
City Commissioners ordered all adult males
to take turns patrolling the streets in 1813, to apprehend
lawbreakers, and "be particular in respect to Fire."
City Watch members spotting flames ran to the yard of Casso's
Inn at the head of Fayetteville Street and rang a large bell.
Citizens were required to rush to the scene with whatever
extinguishing materials or firefighting equipment they had. In
1818, the purchase of a fire engine was finally approved, and
one year later, a "very complete Fire-Engine from
Philadelphia, with a Supply Pump, a sufficient length of Hose,
Fire-Hooks, Chain, etc." arrived. A fire company was
formed at the same time, led by Raleigh Register editor Joseph
Gales. The city had also rushed to complete a system of wooden
pipes to convey water into town. It failed and was abandoned a
few months after its inauguration. As the fire company had
difficulty maintaining a full roster, a law was passed in 1826
allowing the city to draft male citizens for fire service if
fewer than 40 volunteered each year. Males could also be fined
$5 for failing to assist when the fire alarm sounded.
...continued in the book!