Voice of America Fire Department

Created July 19, 2017


Introduction

In 1962, construction of the world's largest radio broadcasting station was completed in eastern North Carolina. Built by the United States government for its Voice of America shortwave service, the facility was spread across three sites in two counties.

Site A (Beaufort) and Site B (Pitt) housed the transmitting facilities. They were nearly identical, each about 2750 square feet. Site C, also in Pitt county, was smaller with 644 acres. It housed the receiving facilities, program master control, communications center, and station main offices. The three sites formed an equilateral triangle, approximately 23 miles on each side, around Greenville, N.C.


Source: "The Voice of America – Greenville, North Carolina” by F. Walter Rhine

Operational in 1963

Construction started on February 15, 1960, was completed on December 7, 1962, and became operational on February 8, 1963. With its inauguration, the facility doubled the Voice of America's broadcasting power. Occupying over 6,000 acres, or over ten square miles, the three sites and their eighteen main transmitters produced 4.8 million watts.

The station served two main functions: primary shortwave broadcasting directly from the United States to Latin America and portions of Europe and Africa, as well as shortwave signals for retransmission (Europe, Middle East) or rebroadcasting (all of Africa, the Near East, and South Asia) to the rest of the world.

The facility and its three sites required a robust infrastructure, which included rigging teams; electronic, electric, and mechanical shops; on-site manufacture of certain parts; warehousing and stock needs; security and guards; road maintenance; field mowing; and firefighting capabilities.

Fire Department

The fire department was more accurately an industrial fire brigade, with employees trained as firefighters. Recalls Steven Collingwood, whose father worked at Site A, "they were not a fire department by name, just a fire brigade-type of organization."

"The assumption was that if you worked there, you were on the brigade," he says. "I remember my dad coming home dirty from grass fires, even though he was actually a radio engineer."

Most of the fires were brush fires, caused by the high-voltage power lines on the site. They were spotted from the tower section of the main buildings at each transmitter site. The towers were also used for spotting issues in the antennas or transmission lines.


Source: "The Voice of America – Greenville, North Carolina” by F. Walter Rhine

Local fire departments, where available, were also called when fires were spotted. Due to the large size of the sites--and their distance from fire departments--their responses times could be long, recalls Collingwood. And the call volume was very low, around or less than ten times a year. "Primarily during the dry/hot season," he adds.

Note: Local fire protection wasn't available at Site A and Site B until the creation of rural fire departments in those areas, such as Black Jack FD in 1969, and Clark's Neck FD in 1976.

Haz-Mats at Site C

In 1971, a private agribusiness firm was permitted to bury at Site C the contaminated debris from a chemical warehouse fire. The firm agreed to fund the costs of any clean-up, and the toxic waste was entombed in storage cells. In 1994, those 55 acres were excluded from the sale of the Site C property to the state of North Carolina.

Note: The contaminated debris is also remembered as coming from the Coastal Carolina warehouse fire in Greenville in February 1979. That debris, however, was buried at the Pitt County landfill.

Fire Apparatus

In 1968, each site was equipped with a hose company. Shown below is Hose Company No. 1, which operated a pumper with an International Load Star chassis. Click to enlarge:


Source: "The Voice of America – Greenville, North Carolina” by F. Walter Rhine

Later apparatus included brush trucks, two of which were donated to Clark's Neck and Black Jack fire departments in Pitt County. Both were 1985 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe pick-up trucks equipped with slide-in pumps and 300 gallon water tanks. Click to enlarge:


Steven Collingwood photos

Apparatus Storage

Fire apparatus was stored in the main building at each site. Says Collingwood, "It was at least a third or more underground, and had a large garage as a motor-pool type area, where the fire trucks were stored along with other vehicles." Click to enlarge:


Wikipedia photo of Site B building


Left: Site A and Site B building plans. Right: Site C building plans
Source: "The Voice of America – Greenville, North Carolina” by F. Walter Rhine

The Sites Today

Site A Closed 2006
  • Sold to Beaufort County as surplus US property.
  • Later transferred to the state wildlife commission, which demolished the towers in 2016, and planned to open the site as game land.
Site B Active
  • Still operating.
  • Also the only shortwave site still operating in the United States.
Site C Closed 1995
  • Decommissioned 1999.
  • Sold to East Carolina University 2001.
  • Used for various purposes, including the Queen Anne's Revenge conservation lab.

Here's a nifty video of the towers being demolished at Site A:


View on YouTube

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Julie Legeros and Dena Ali for research assistance. Thanks to Steven Collingwood and John Martin for oral histories and other information.

Sources

Primary sources include:

"Implosions bring down 48 VOA towers in Beaufort County", WITN, March 28, 2006,  http://www.witn.com/home/headlines/Radio-towers-being-demolished-in-Washington-373785161.html

NC DNCR blog post, January 11, 2017, "Greenville Long Home to Voice of America,"  https://www.ncdcr.gov/blog/2017/01/11/greenville-long-home-voice-america

Oral histories

Pitt County Emergency Apparatus, https://www.facebook.com/PittCountyEmergencyApparatus

"Report of Inspection - The International Broadcasting Bureau’s Greenville, North Carolina, Transmitting Station", United States Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors Office of Inspector General, August 2005, https://oig.state.gov/system/files/124642.pdf

"The Voice of America – Greenville, North Carolina” by F. Walter Rhine, IEEE Transactions on Broadcasting, Vol. BC-14, No. 2, June 1968.

Wikipedia, International Broadcasting Bureau Greenville Transmitting Station,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Broadcasting_Bureau_Greenville_Transmitting_Station


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