This content first appeared as a Facebook posting in August 2021.
Hey Mike, which fire department was the first in North Carolina? Great question. Let’s tease out an answer. First, some ground rules. For our purposes, fire department = fire company, as that was the verbiage of colonial times. Second, fire companies do NOT include those ad hoc groups of citizens that gathered at fires, to help battle the blaze. All that said, the answer is…
Salem in 1785, maybe. And if not Salem, then Edenton, Fayetteville, and Wilmington in 1791. How’s that for an inexact answer?
Here are my research notes, posted here for now. Will move to a blog post in a few days. Please check my work, and let me know your thoughts.
1745 – Wilmington – Legislation empowers city officials to collect tax for acquiring fire equipment. [MJL/NCL] However, they didn’t immediately “take advantage” of the act. [FAFC]
1750 – Wilmington – Town tax levied to purchase fire ladders and buckets. Similar taxes also levied in 1751 and 1755. At least four ladders and sixteen buckets were “immediately procured” and “to the dismay” of town officials, the ladders were used for “private purposes.” [FAFC]
1752 – Wilmington – Town officials decide that surplus tax revenues be set aside for purchasing a fire engine. This is done again in 1753, and 1754. [FAFC]
1754 – Wilmington – Legislation again empowers city officials to collect tax for acquiring fire engines. [MJL/NCL]
1755 – Wilmington – With surplus tax revenues insufficient to fund a fire engine purchase, town officials order “warrants of distress” against those who refused to pay their tax. This results in sufficient funds (they think) to buy the town’s first and state’s first fire engine. The cost ends up much greater, and measures are taken to, first, enlist citizen contributions (which fails) and then a new tax, in 1758, to pay off the loan, “build a shelter for the machine”, and presumably buy fire hooks. [FAFC]
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