Raleigh Fire Department History

1792-1829

1792

Raleigh created after General Assembly, meeting in various towns across the state, recognizes need for fixed location to store valuable records and conduct government business. Several attempts had already been made, including the selection of Edenton in 1722 and the construction of a palace for Governor Tryon in New Bern completed in 1771. Special commission meets at Isaac Hunter's tavern in Wake County and later at Joel Lane's house. After viewing several proposed parcels of land, Commission purchases 1,000 acres owned by Lane. Total cost 1,378 pounds or about $2,756. New capital was named for Sir Walter Raleigh, known as father of English America. The planners design the four principal streets 99 feet wide and all others within the 5/8 mile town limits 66 feet wide, to help prevent fires from spreading block to block. Many of the trees are purposely left intact, also for fire prevention. No town government is provided, however, until three years later. Streets laid out with fire protection and prevention in mind. The official date of the establishment of the Capital City is December 31, the day on which the General Assembly ratifies an act confirming the entire proceedings of commission. (December 13, 1792)wch, yb84, yb12

1795

Upon their first meeting in the newly completed capital building, the General Assembly grants the town a charter. Seven commissioners, appointed for a term of three years, are vested with the authority to make ordinances and regulations for governing Raleigh. (February 7, 1795)no26apr42


First local regulation aimed at fire prevention is ordinance forbidding owners from adding porches, platforms, or other wooden structures onto building fronts that would encroach on the streets and create hazards "by fire being communicated across the streets thereby." yb84

1800

No fire company protecting 0.625 square miles and 699 residents.

1802

First fire apparatus considered. Citizens are requested to "subscribe" the purchase price of a hand-drawn fire engine capable of discharging "eighty gallons of water a minute a distance of forty-four yards," but apparatus is apparently never bought. wch, minerva02aug16

This newspaper notice appeared in the August 16, 1802 edition of the Minerva:

Fire Engine.

The Subscribers to the Fund for purchasing a Fire Engine for the use of this City, are requested to meet at the Court-House, on Friday next, at four o'clock, for the Purpose of giving an Order for the Purchase of the Engine and other Apparatus, (a Sufficiency of Money for the Purpose being Subscribed) and for forming a Fire Company.

As the Articles of Association will be drawn at this Meeting, and the Officers of the Company elected, it is hoped that a full Attendance will be given.

August 16.

1803

Stable of Mr. Porter burns. The structure burns to the ground between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. Despite the strong wind, the efforts of citizens to tear down one building and throw water on the other buildings prevent the flames from doing further damage. The fire was discovered in time to save a horse. The fire is deemed suspicious. (December 19, 1903)minerva04jan03


City is re-chartered. Commissioners are granted "full power to do what they may deem necessary to stop the progress of the calamity, even to the causing of adjoining buildings to be taken down or blown up, without being answerable for any damage to the owner or owners of property so destroyed."wch

City commissioners order the digging of at least four public wells, each with a pump. One or two are apparently completed within the next twelve years.wch

1813

Legislative act grants city commissions authority to purchase a fire engine, form a fire company, make other regulations as deemed necessary "for the extinguishment of Fire." They subsequently adopt an ordinance instructing members of the city's night watch, which requires "every adult male living in Raleigh" to take a turn as member, to "be particular in respect to Fire." The night watch also patrols the streets to apprehend lawbreakers. wch, no26apr42

In the event of fire, watch members ring a large bell in the yard of Casso's Inn at the head of Fayetteville Street "in order to alarm the citizens." Subsequently, every citizen has a duty to rush to the scene with water, sand, buckets, or other equipment to help fight the fire.wch, yb84

1814

Commissioners authorize purchase of first fire engine. The hand-powered apparatus, however, isn't ordered for two more more years.wch

1815

Legislative act empowers Intendant and city commissioners to make contracts for construction of a municipal water supply. This results in subsequent project to pipe water into the city using wooden pipes.no26apr42, wch

1816

First major fire on record. Destroys 51 buildings in first two blocks of Fayetteville Street. Dozens of volunteers form bucket brigade but are unable to control blaze that begins before midnight and, within two hours, has destroyed 51 buildings in the first two blocks of Fayetteville Street, the main business area of Raleigh. Finally, a building in the path of the flames is blasted. The State House in Union Square is saved by men who climb onto the roof and wet it down. Read entire Raleigh Register article. (June 11, 1816)

As a result of the fire, Raleigh Register editor Joseph Gales, already a constant campaigner for an adequate water supply and efficient fire preparedness, is aided by other citizens in efforts to set some in motion some protective measures.

Fire engine authorized for purchase in 1814 is ordered. wch

Work is hastened on the water system, which will "convey water through wooden pipes" from springs located outside of town. wch

1818

First municipal water system is completed, but ultimately an abortive attempt. Using a water wheel at Rocky Branch south of town, along with a "propelling engine" and four forcing pumps, water travels through wooden pipes a distance of 1.5 miles to a 110-foot water tower near the south side of the State House. From there, gravity feeds a reservoir near Union Square, and from there other parts of the city are served. Completed after about three years of work, the system is an almost complete failure. It's abandoned within an year or two. (September 1818)wch

1819

First fire engine delivered. The hand-pulled, hand-powered pump is described as a "very complete Fire-Engine from Philadelphia, with a Supply Pump, a sufficient length of Hose, Fire-Hooks, Chain, &c." (by March 12, 1819)rr12mar19

Fire fire company successfully formed. The following evening after the delivery of the fire engine, the general citizenry meets at the courthouse and chooses Raleigh Register editor Joseph Gales, recently elected as Intendant of Police, as President and waterworks engineer Jacob Lash as Captain. The complete list of officers:

  • Joseph Gales, President
  • Beverly Daniel, Vice President
  • Jacob Lash, Captain
  • John T. C. Wiatt, Lieutenant
  • William F. Clark, Lieutenant
  • Thomas Cobbs, Lieutenant
  • Thomas Henderson, Lieutenant.
  • John Dunn, Treasurer
  • John Bell, Secretary (by March 12, 1819)rr12mar19, wch

1821

Fire destroys east side of Fayetteville Street. wch

Legislative act (?) exempts citizens who volunteer "their services to work the fire engine as a fire company" from military duties "except in times of insurrection of war."no26apr42


Legislative act is passed is passed for city governance that includes:

...And whereas, the citizens of Raleigh have been at considerable expense in providing the city with a fire engine and other implements for the purpose of extinguishing any fire which may break out in said city.

Be it further enacted, That such citizens as may form themselves into a fire company, for the purpose of working said engine at any fire which may take place, and wherever they shall be called upon by the captain of said company to exercise said engine for the purpose of seeing that it be kept in good order, be exempted from military duty, (except in time of insurrection, invasion, or war,) and provided such company shall not exceed forty in number, and that they be subject to such rules and regulations as may be adopted by the commissioners of the city, or said fire company; and provided they produce from the captain of said company a certificate of their enrolment, and of their having faithfully performed their duty therein, since the period of their enrolment.

Source: Laws of North Carolina, 1821, Chapter LXXIX, p. 57.

1823

Log house adjoining kitchen of Mr. Ruffin's Hotel burns.

The February 28 edition of The Raleigh Register recounts: "on Tuesday night last, between 10 and 11 o'clock, the citizens of this place were alarmed by the cry of Fire, which had been discovered by the Citizens on Guard, in a Log House, occupied by Negroes, adjoining the Kitchen of Mr. Ruffin's Hotel. It was found impossible to prevent the destruction of that house, but fortunately the Kitchen being a Stone building, the Fire was prevented, by the activity of the citizens and Negroes present, from spreading further. The Roof of the Kitchen was considerably injured; but as soon as ladders and a supply could be procured, the Fire was extinguished. We are sorry to say that a poor old Negro Woman, who was unable to help herself, was burnt in the building. We have to regret, that for want of proper care, the Fire Engine belonging to the city was so much out of order that it could not be used. We trust the Fire Company, which has been so long in agitation, will be formed without further delay; and that the Engine, Hose, Ladders, Fire Hooks, &c. will be kept in good order and in constant readiness to meet accidents of this kind. It would be well also to have a few Kegs of Powder ready for use." (February 25, 1823)rr


New fire company formed with John Y. Savage as "Captain of the Engine." (Spring 1923?)wch

1824

Four or five buildings burn at Hargett and Wilmington streets.

The fire alarm is sounded about 4:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning, with the "ringing of bells and the cry of 'fire!'" The fire starts in Lewis Holloman's blacksmith shop at the corner of Hargett and Wilmington streets. The citizens soon gather in crowds, and the store is "completely enveloped in flames." This had "an alarming appearance" and "greatly increased the danger and disorder" as "no one knew what steps to take." Though provisions had been "long since made for a fire company, nothing of the kind appeared on the ground." Continued the Raleigh Register of February 24, "It was some time before the Engine, Fire Hooks, Ladders, or Water could be got." Once the fire engine was brought to the scene, it was "so much out of order" that it was "nearly useless." And had it been working, "no sufficient supply of water could be obtained" as the waterworks had "been suffered to go out of repair, and to remain in that state."

In time, "some tubs of water were got" and with the help of citizens, "but principally of the Negroes," who used fire hooks, and threw water and mud on the buildings that were "most exposed," and covering them, "where practicable," with wet blankets, the "rage of the flame was stayed." The fire had already destroyed the blacksmith's shop, however, and three or four "other frame buildings." One was a stable, which reportedly contained sixty barrels of corn and "a quantity of hay."

"Fortunately for our city," noted the newspaper, "the wind was favorable and considerably rain had fallen in the course of the night." Afterward, the City Commissioner met and performed these actions:

  • passed an ordnance that prohibited erection of any blacksmith or bake shop within certain limits of the city, except with fireproof materials
  • took measures to render the fire company effective
  • appointed a committee to report on the water works
  • appointed another committee to "designate such Negroes as particularly signalized themselves by their activity in putting a stop to the fire." (February 22, 1824)rr24feb24

1826

Legislative session commences on December 25, 1826, and continues into next year. Lawmakers pass an act granting city commissioners authority to draft citizens for fire companies, among other provisions. Historical records cite the act as passed in 1826, though it appears to have been passed in 1827. See below.wch, no26apr42

1827

The following notice is printed in the January 23, 1827, edition of the Raleigh Register:

To the Citizens of Raleigh.

Fellow Citizens:

Nothing is more essential to the welfare of our City, than a well-organized Fire Company. I now take the liberty of addressing you on this subject, and beg your attention.

The present Company is so well organized as to be perfectly useless; to this I beg your attention, whilst I state what came within my own knowledge on the subject.

I was elected Captain of the Fire Company--I accepted the appointment, with a hope to be useful. On my being informed of my appointment, I issued an order for all persons having ladders belonging to the Company, to bring them to the place of deposit--all were brought but one which now remains on the State House--and also forbidding any person from taxing them from that place. The ladders and hooks were so scattered in the street as to be liable to injury. I then ordered the Captain of the ladders to have them placed more securely; this he promised, on being assured the expenses would be paid by the Commissioners, yet it was never done; and finding that no law of the Company provided any fine or punishment for such neglect, the ladder and hooks lie in the same situation they were.

As I wished to know in whose hands the Fire Buckets were, I issued an order to the Lieutenant of the Line, to furnish me with the necessary information, but he directed me to the Treasurer and Secretary of the Board of Commissioners. I applied to the Treasurer, who could not tell. I asked him if he had not taken receipts; he said he had, but those receipts were returned to the Secretary, who denied any knowledge of the matter.

On the whole, I found, that a large majority of the Company were composed of men who joined it to avoid militia duty, and felt little interest in the preservation of the city, in consequence of which, I resigned my appointment--since which, I find, one of the Company has taken the liberty of taking one of the ladders for private use.

Fellow Citizens--I recommend to you to examine a law passed in 1822, to organize Fire Companies in the Town of Washington, and have a counterpart of it passed for the government of our city, in case of Fire--I would, even then, wish no exemption from Militia duty.

Respectfully, your fellow citizen.

Jos. Ross.

N. B. Having been an eye-witness of the manner in which our citizens conducted themselves when the fire took place which burned a large part of our city, I am doubly induced to wish an efficient law (such as that for the town of Washington) passed. Then, few but negroes made any exertion--I made application to several white men who would not assist. J. R.

After experiencing difficulty obtaining enough volunteers for a fire company, city commissions are grated authority through Legislative act to draft citizens if fewer than forty men volunteer each year. Under the leadership of a captain and four other officers, the forty men are to train with the engine at least once every other month. The draftees are also exempt from regular militia duty. Additionally, all free males in the city are required to report with their fire buckets and "render every assistance in their power" and with a penalty of $5 should they fail to assist.

The complete text of the legislative act is printed in the March 9, 1827, Weekly Raleigh Register:

An act for the better protection of the City of Raleigh from losses by Fire.

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same. That a Fire Company be
established in the City of Raleigh, in the following manner: The Intendant of Police and Commissioners of said City, shall, in the month of January
in every year, enroll the free white male inhabitants of said City of twenty-one years of age and upwards, (those only to be excepted, who shall, from
age or infirmity, be unable to perform the duties of a member of a Fire Company,) and being thus enrolled, the said Intendant and Commissioners shall publicly invite such citizens as choose to volunteer their services to form a Fire Company for the said City, to consist of forty members; and if a sufficient number do not offer themselves as volunteers before the last Saturday in February, the said Intendant and Commissioners shall, on that day, draft from the enrolment which they have made, such number of men as shall be wanting to make up said Company, who shall serve one year; and in all future drafts, those who have already served in said Company, shall be excused, until all the enrolled citizens shall have performed their tour of duty.

II. Be it further enacted. That immediately after the proper number of men have been obtained to form said Fire Company, the Intendant of Police
shall call a meeting of the men thus volunteered and drafted, at the Court house in the City of Raleigh, for the purpose of electing a Captain and four
other Officers of deferent grades, to be determined by the Board of Commissioners of said City, and chosen from said Company; and in case such election does not take place at such meeting, the said Board of Commissioners shall appoint such officers, who shall serve until the next annual election; and in case of vacancies, occasioned by death or otherwise, they shall be filled by the Company, or by the Board of Commissioners, as aforesaid.

III. Be it further enacted. That the Captain of said Fire Company shall call his Company together for the purpose of exercise with the Engine, as
often as he may deem it necessary, which shall be, at least, once in every two months, or, on failure to do so, he shall be subject to a fine of ten dollars for every such default. And in case of the absence from the city of the Captain, inability, or other cause, he cannot attend to his duty, the calling gut of the men for exercise or any other duly of the Captain, shall devolve on the officer next in command, who shall be subject to like penalties, in case of failure to perform his duty; and on the failure of any member of the Company to perform his duty, he shall forfeit one dollar for every such offence.

IV. Be It further enacted. That it shall be the duty of the Captain of the Fire Company to see that care be taken of the Engine, Hose, Hooks, Ladders,
and other apparatus belonging to the City; and whenever any repairs are necessary to the Engine, or to any other of the articles used by the Company,
he shall immediately give notice thereof to the Intendant of Police or one of the Commissioners, who shall lay the subject before the Board at its
next meeting, so that the Engine and other apparatus may always be in good order for service; should any Captain fail in his duty in this respect, he will be subject to a fine of ten dollars.

V. Be it further enacted, That whenever an alarm of fire shall be given, all the free inhabitants of the city shall attend with their fire buckets, and render every assistance in their power to extinguish such fire, and to take care of any property that may be endangered thereby; such as are
members of the Fire Company, performing their duty under their proper orders, and others obeying the directions of those in authority; any one
failing to perform his duty on such an occasion, to be subject to a fine of five dollars for every such offense.

VI. Be it further enacted, That in cases of fire in said city, it shall be competent for a majority of the Commissioners of the city, who may
be present, if they deem it necessary to stop the progress of such fire, to cause any house or houses to be blown up or pulled down, for which they
shall not be responsible to any one.

VII. Be it further enacted, That in case another Fire Engine, or other Fire Engines, shall hereafter be procured for the use of the said city, another
Company or other Companies may be formed, upon a similar plan, and subject to the same rules and regulations which are provided for the company now proposed to be formed for managing the same.

VIII. Be it further enacted. That such men as are actually members of any Fire Company in said city, who may be subject to militia duty, shall be
exempted from mustering during the period of such service, except the country should be at war.

IX. Be it further enacted, That all fines incurred under this act shall be recovered by warrant before the Intendant of Police of said city, or before
any Justice of the Peace for Wake county.

X. Be it further enacted. That all acts, or clause of acts, coming within the meaning of this act, be, and the same are hereby repealed.

The legislation also appears in Acts Passed by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina at its Session Commencing of the 25th of December 1826, Chapter XCVI, p. 58.

Fire company reorganized, as this announcement appears in the March 13, 1829, edition of the Raleigh Register:

Raleigh Fire Company.

A meeting of the Intendant, Commissioners, and Citizens of Raleigh, will be held at the Court-house, on Saturday next, at 3 o'clock, for the purpose of forming anew the Fire Company of the City, which the Act provides shall be done annually. The Company, which consists of forty members, will be comprised of Volunteers, if a sufficient number offer their services for the purpose. But, if not, such Volunteers as off will be accepted, and the remainder will be drafted. As soon as a sufficient number of members are obtained, the Company will proceed to the appointment of its Officers.

J. Gales, Intendant of Police
Raleigh, March 9, 1829

The company's organization is reported in the March 31, 1829, edition of the Raleigh Register:

New Fire Company. On Saturday week, a meeting of the citizens was held at the Courthouse, for the purpose of receiving such volunteers that might present themselves as members of the Raleigh Fire Company for the ensuing year, and provided the full number did not offer their services, for drafting the remainder. Twenty-five volunteers were accepted, and the remaining fifteen were drafted.

After which, the meeting appointed the following Thursday for the election of the Officers, at which time the Company met, and elected
 
Wm. F. Clark, Captain
Thomas Cobbs, Lieutenant
Wm. Thompson, Lieutenant
Joseph Chaires, Lieutenant
Anderson Nicholsen, Lieutenant
Allen Sims, Treasurer and Collector
C. D. Lehman, Secretary

We have the pleasure to state, that the Fire Engine is undergoing some necessary repairs, and will soon be in perfect order. We trust, the officers of the company in the future kept it so, so that, in case of accident by fire, the Company may afford that aid to the City which a well-disciplined Fire-Company never fails to give in such cases.


Drafting volunteers continues for some years. Though necessary to draft a portion of the forty men each year, the system works fairly well. Subsequent reports of fires note that blazes are quickly extinguished because the engine is kept in good repair and "was got out with great expedition and most of the company were at their posts."wch



Abbreviations

[AA]   Aircraft accident
[AI]   Apparatus incident
[EF]   Early fire
[HM]   Haz-mat incident
[MA]   Mutual Aid
[MF]   Major fire
[RA   Railway accident
[TF]   Tanker fire
[TR]   Technical rescue
[UD]   USAR deployment
[UF]   Unusual fire
[UI]   Unusual incident
[WE]   Weather event

Sources

ar   City of Raleigh Annual Report
bd   City of Raleigh budget documents
cvh   Cameron Village: A History 1949-1999, Nan Hutchins, Sprit Press, 2001
cad City of Raleigh Auditor's Office
ccm / cm   City Council Minutes / City Minutes
ccor   1792-1892, The Centennial Celebration of Raleigh, NC, Kemp D. Battle, Edwards and Broughton, 1893
cer   Chief Engineer's Report
dah   North Carolina Department of Archives and History
dahni   North Carolina Department of Archives and History News and Observer index
fp   City of Raleigh Fire Protection Study
hr   Historical Raleigh with Sketches of Wake County and its Important Towns, Moss N. Amis, 1912
oh   Oral History
mjlr   Mike Legeros records.
mp   Morning Post
nc   North Carolinian
no   News and Observer
noi   News and Observer Index
pb   Peter Brock
pph   Pullen Park History
rla   Raleigh Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary scrapbooks
rpu   Raleigh Fire Department Photo Unit records
rr   Raleigh Register
rt   Raleigh Times
ruh   Raleigh: An Unorthodox History
yb84   Raleigh Fire Department 1984, Raleigh Fire Department, Taylor Publishing, 1984
yb02+   Raleigh Fire and Rescue: 1984-2002, Raleigh Fire Department, Taylor Publishing, 2002, plus additional historical information also compiled by the Raleigh Fire Department around 2002.
wch   Wake: Capital County of North Carolina - Volume 1, Prehistory Through Centennial, Elizabeth Reid Murray, Capital County Publishing, 1983


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