Guilford County Fire System, 1966


Here’s a historical perspective on Guilford County’s fire system in 1966, including dispatch procedures, unit numbering, radio signals, and run cards. Plus a pair of incident details.

This was presented at the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association annual meeting that year, held in Carolina Beach on August 1 and 2, and is copied from the printed conference proceedings. 

Subheadings in [bold and brackets] were added by Mr. Blogger, along with additional paragraph breaks and a couple bulleted lists to improve readability.

See also this detailed history of Guilford County Fire Rescue, and these prior blog postings:


By R. W. Grant

Fire Marshal of Guilford County, North Carolina

Mr. Chairman, fellow firemen—at a relentless pace, time moves on; and no human hand can stay its pace. In the inner recesses of mind we may cry for the status to remain quiet. But ladies and gentlemen, the flow of time is never backward. It pushes man and events onward at a rate that never slackens and never falters. We are, thus, thrust into the future. We of the fire service have come to feel the effect of the jet age.

Fire has been with us since the beginning of time and yet man is just learning to control its destructive elements. For the next few minutes, we want to focus on Guilford County’s efforts to protect its Citizens and property from the ravages of fire.

[About the County]

Guilford County is located in the center of the State. Its location is very conducive to new industrial growth. The landscape of our County is changing. The interstate highways and air travel are doing much to make pasture land valuable for industry and the resultant population surge. Industry is on the move in the jet age.

Guilford County is located in the great industrial region known as the Piedmont Crescent. It is very nearly midpoint on the north-south industrial map as illustrated by the huge petroleum complex and the pipeline companies which are located in the County.

The County with its two large cities of Greensboro and High Point is mushrooming out into the suburban and rural areas.

We are not trying to toot our horn in a chamber of commerce fashion, but to illustrate the tremendous change in responsibility that has been forced by progress on the County and its fire protection program.

The future holds in store a doubling of population. The fire service must scramble to keep pace with it.

[About the Departments]

We are very proud of the fire protection in our County. The two large municipalities have very fine paid fire departments. They are progressive and modern. The areas surrounding the two cities are ·protected by a complex of tax supported fire districts. These districts are joined together as one by the efforts of the Guilford County Fire Protective Association. The County Fire Marshal’s Office, established in 1961, serves as. the coordinating agency for all fire protection work outside of the two municipalities.

There are a total of twenty-eight fire stations covering the County fire districts. Several of the fire districts operate two or more stations. The fire departments have 800 volunteers. Four of the departments have paid fire chief and two have additional paid men. The Fire Marshal’s Office has a staff of four while the Airport Fire and Rescue Station has a staff of thirteen.

[Those 28 fire stations covering the county likely included:
1. 10-A FD
2. Alamance Community FD
3. Battleground FD
4. Climax FD
5. Colfax FD
6. Deep River FD
7. Fire District 13 FD
8. Fire District 14 FD
9. Gibsonville FD
10. Guilford College FD Sta 1
11. Guilford College FD Sta 2
12. Guil-Rand FD
13. Julian FD
14. Kimesville FD
15. Mcleansville FD
16. Mount Hope FD
17. Oak Ridge FD
18. Oakview FD
19. Pinecroft-Sedgefield FD Sta 1
20. Pinecroft-Sedgefield FD Sta 2
21. Pleasant Garden FD
22. Southeast FD
23. Stokesdale FD
24. Summerfield FD
25. Whitsett FD
26. Airport FD
27. ?
28. ? ]

The typical County pumper is on a commercial chassis with a 750 GPM midship pump and 500 to 750 gallons of water. The pumpers have two 1 1/2-inch pre-connects ,and several have a 2 ½-inch pre-connect. The pumper carries 500 to 1,200 feet of 2 1/2-inch or 3-inch supply lines. Since only a portion of the County is hydrant protected, tankers are very important. The newer tankers have 500 GPM pumps with large capacity piping. We are using 3-inch pre-connected intake and discharge lines on either side of the truck.

Many of the departments operate squad trucks and a small capacity pump for grass fires. There is need for additional rescue vehicles; We presently operate a vehicle at the Airport and there is a rescue truck at the Guil-Rand Fire Station at Archdale.

[Problems and Solutions]

One of the most important aspects of providing Countywide fire protection is organized mutual aid. As our area grows so do the complexities of fire fighting. We have had several large fire losses in past years which have caused us to analyze the fire problem of the County. We compared the per capita fire losses of the County with the national average for cities over 20,000 population and also with that of the City of Greensboro. We found our per capita loss was running very high. In analyzing the problem and providing a basis for lowering the per capita loss, we divided the fire protection complex into four phases—Education, Prevention, Fire Alarm, Fire Fighting.

We have started to improve the fire prevention phase by having a man in the Fire Marshal’s Office to cover fire prevention with special emphasis on industrial fire protection.

The fire alarm phase has been improved by the establishment of a Central Alarm system.

The fire fighting phase has been updated with improved methods of fire fighting. better fire equipment and a “beefing up” mutual aid program. The fire fighting equipment is being purchased to meet the need. Yesterday’s trucks will not handle today’s problems.

Let us now get down to the specifics of the mutual aid program. In its simplest form to be carried out, one must provide the following facts: Who-What-When-Where-Why. The Communications Center provides these answers.

[About the Communications Center]

In Guilford County we operate on three fire frequencies and two control frequencies. The main frequency is low band 46.50 MHz and a second frequency is provided as a command purpose. This is 46.24 mhz. The Communications Center also operates on 154.280 MHz which is an inter-city mutual aid fire frequency. This is connected to the control center of the High Point Fire Department.

The Communications Center, located at the Airport Fire Station, controls the main station which is located at the County tower approximately four miles away. This is done by microwave. The main station rebroadcasts at 350 watts. The F-2 frequency is broadcast direct from the Airport Station at 100 watts. The inter-city frequency also originates from the fire station. The F-2 transmitter serves as an auxiliary F-1 transmitter in, case of a main station failure.

There are 90 fire vehicles operating in the County fire system and this requires a special radio numbering system. The vehicles carry as a prefix the station number and the suffix indicates the type of vehicle. In other words, 1, 2, and 3 represent engines; 4, 5, 6, tankers; 7, 8, brush trucks. Station No. 3 has engine 31 and 32, tankers 34 and 35, and the brush truck is 37.

Our newest mobile radios are of the transistor type with the F-1 and F-2 frequencies. These sets can be operated in the center position and simultaneously monitor both frequencies. The portable radios used also have two frequencies. This allows much freedom on the fire ground since the operating chiefs can set up the F-2 frequency as a command frequency.

The County departments are now purchasing monitor radio equipment for their firemen. These transistorized units operate on the F-1 frequency and are battery powered in case of electrical failure. Each fire station is equipped with a 60 watt base station on F-1. Each station is provided with emergency power sufficient to operate the radio plus a 3 hp siren.

Radio signals used are very limited—we mostly say we mean. The condition reports are interesting, however, because they provide the size up of the first arriving company on the scene:

  • Condition No. 1, being a minor fire—can handle with what’s on the scene;
  • Condition No. 2, a working fire-can handle with responding apparatus and
  • Condition No. 3, major fire—need extra equipment.

[About Central Alarm]

Central Alarm is about one year old and we are in a transitional period. Many of the stations still receive their own calls by telephone. After receipt of such a call, the station notifies Central by radio.

Central has eight fire emergency lines coming into it. All phone messages are recorded as well as all radio traffic.

When the dispatcher receives a call, he fills out a card which includes all of the vital information pertaining to the emergency. He then stamps the card using a time stamper. Going to the card file, he locates the road and checks the accompanying map. Each district is divided into Box Alarm areas which are projected on a wall map. These box alarm areas give the rerunning assignments for each of the districts. The box alarm cards list the companies which respond on locals as well as automatic mutual aid.

After the dispatcher has located the Company, he alerts the station and provides the location and type of fire. He then sets off the fire siren tone. The information is received by the station, many of which are manned, and the apparatus is ready to roll. With the firemen aboard, the apparatus is on its way and notifying Central of its response. This information is recorded on the back of the card and provides a permanent time record of response.

The response of other equipment such as tankers is also recorded. The apparatus, as it arrives on the scene, gives a 10-97. The officer makes an immediate size up and radios Central a Condition report. He may indicate the need for the power company, police, etc., thus, can be handled by Central. When the fire is out, a Condition No. 10 is given to indicate the Company is returning to quarters. All information is recorded on the permanent record cards which serve as a supplement for the more formal Company fire reports and in some cases an investigative report of the Fire Marshal’s Office.

[Other Services From Communications]

The Communication Center provides many important services to the County companies.

The fire hazards library, located in the Control Center, provides information on chemicals and other hazardous materials to aid fire chiefs on the scene. The use water from fire hydrants is kept on cards for the Greensboro Water Department. A brief medical history of each fireman is kept on file including such information as next of kin, his family physician, age, medical problems and allergies. 77% ·of our firemen have some significant medical fact worthy of record.

Weather information is gotten twice daily from the U. S. Weather Bureau. Information includes temperatures, wind direction, humidity. This information is [broadcast] at 11:00 p.m. and at 6:00 p.m. On large fires, the latest weather information is gotten for the Officer in Charge. Severe weather advisories are also issued.

Each year, the County Fire Chiefs’ Council service tests all pumpers and tankers. At that time, an inventory of all equipment is made and transferred to inventory cards located at the Communications Center. This information is cross-referenced for each vehicle and also for a particular piece of equipment such as smoke ejectors. Each station’s equipment is color coded on a County-wide basis. This eliminates confusion over ownership during a mutual aid operation.

Organized Automatic Mutual Aid requires a plan. This plan originated in the Fire Chiefs’ Council through the Mutual Aid Committee. It was presented to the fire chiefs and adopted. It carries the following definitions:

  • Local Alarm: Single company response to a grass, woods, auto, house, etc. fire.
  • Box Alarm: Special automatic mutual aid alarms for schools, churches, manufacturing, mercantile, etc.
  • Fill In: Movement of fire equipment from one station to another to better cover the County during large emergencies.

Responses on box alarms are based on the hazards of the area and vary in size from three companies to five companies in certain industrial areas. Special areas such as the Airport have special assignments which are heavy in particular types of equipment such as tankers. On each assignment, there are certain designated fill ins which keep the County covered for other fires. Let me emphasize that the box alarm is automatic in nature. If the first company has a Condition No. 1 on arrival, the rest of the equipment returns to the station.

[Planning for Industrial Properties]

Industrialization has created new problems for mutual aid. They must be met on the drawing board if possible.

Plans are submitted to the Fire Marshal’s Office before construction of plant properties begin. These plans are revised in accordance with NFPA standards. A very fine working agreement exists between the Office and the County and City Inspections Department. Plans are also translated into the terms of the pre-fire planning. The Assistant Fire Marshal becomes familiar with all plant operations and this information is provided to the local departments. Most target hazards have pre-fire planning maps drawn of them. This information is kept in plastic binders.

Pre-fire planning is necessary and needs to involve all mutual aid companies as well as the first due company. Knowledge of piping and valves is extremely important in large industrial complexes. The fire protection system must he studied and preparations be made for the worst. Diagrams showing pumping stations and connections must be kept in all responding apparatus. Working with the personnel is very important to learn how they can be in time of emergency. Nursing homes and many other target hazards need to be studied and training on the scene is necessary.

Setting down exact procedures will save many headaches during an emergency. Spelling out in general terms the duties of apparatus and the firemen is necessary. The Staff functions on the largest type emergencies need to be delegated. These might include Command post chief, field command, water supply chief, first aid and rescue chiefs, safety chief and logistics chief. The locations of such posts as aid stations, press briefing and command centers should be spelled out.

Let us take the few remaining minutes to give you a few cases of mutual aid operations.

[Dixie Heat Treating Company]

On June 22, at 2:54 p.m., a call was received for an explosion and fire at the Dixie Heat Treating Company on High Point Road. One of the processes involves the use of gas fired cyanide salt baths which are heated to 1600° F. Moisture entering the molten salt solution will tum to steam and the resulting explosion will ignite any nearby combustibles as the material is splattered. Deadly hydrogen cyanide gas is also evolved. Since water for extinguishment will create an even worse situation, pre-planning for fire attack is essential.

It was determined on arrival by Pinecroft-Sedgefield’s Chief Bryant that the building was charged with smoke and fire was showing in the ceiling above the process area. Ventilation was carried out and dry chemical hand extinguishers were used to initially control the fire. Salvage covers were then placed over the salt baths and a booster line was brought in for mop up using as little water as possible. Yes, pre-planning pays off!

[Kerosene Tanker Explosion]

On May 14, the 56-car Southern freight train No. 86, was headed toward Greensboro in the Friendship tank farm area. As the train approached Gallimore Dairy Road, Millard D. Anderson, with his 8,000 gallon aluminum tanker carrying 7,300 gallons of kerosene, pulled in front of the train. The first locomotive struck the left side of the trailer and picked it up off the tractor and threw it about 12 feet in the air and continued down the tracks for about 350 feet and jackknifed. The tank split in half. There was a fiery explosion.

The County fire dispatcher could see the fire rolling upward at the end of the Airport. The Airport Fire Department Rescue truck, engine and a tanker were dispatched. The Airport Box Alarm was sounded (Box Alarm No. 10), which dispatched stations 17, 19 (Guilford College), 23 (Pinecroft-Sedgefield), 18 (Deep River), 16 (Colfax), and 15 (Oak Ridge). The Airport apparatus proceeded directly down the Airport taxiways to Highway No. 421, and the scene of the accident, where a second

Alarm was sounded. Second Alarm apparatus consisted of Station 9 (Summerfield), 11 (Battleground), 24, 25 (Pinecroft-Sedgefield), and 26 (Colfax).

The rescue vehicle, using 500 pounds of Purple K Dry Powder, attacked the fire which was in the area of the remains of the tanker. The powder knocked this fire back, ·and it was followed by an attack with two (2) 1 ½-inch fog lines. The fire was burning intensely under the boxcars and flowing in the ditches. The next piece of equipment on the scene was Guilford College’s Foam truck 174, which placed two (2) 2 1/2-inch pre-connected foam lines and two (2) 1 1/2-inch pre-connected foam lines in operation. These lines knocked down the fire flowing under the boxcars and the Airport Fire Department knocked down the fire near the shell of the tank.

As the other apparatus arrived, they pulled lines off to extinguish the oil fire. The boxcars which were on fire contained blankets and scrap paper. Entry was moved into the top of the boxcars using a K-12 Rescue Saw and then attacking with 1 ½-inch fog lines.

Eugene Parsons, Guilford College Fire District Chief ordered a 1200 foot supply 3-inch line laid from the road to a nearby lake, where a pumper was set up to draft. At this time, where were 13 1 ½-inch lines and 4 2 ½-inch lines in service being supplied from tankers and from the 3-inch relay line.

Communications were kept to a minimum by the use of a second frequency for command purposes. There was a chief in each sector of the fire with a portable radio operating on the second frequency.

Salvage operations were under the direction of a Salvage chief. There was a first aid station set up and a feeding station by the ladies auxiliary.

Major fire operations continued until dusk, when all of the box cars were extinguished. Apparatus was on the scene during the night and for the next two days.=

[Gasoline Storage Tank Fire]

Sunday, May 29, 1966, provided another interesting test of mutual aid fire fighting. A fire occurred in a 1,680,000-gallon gasoline storage tank. The tank had a lifter roof which means that the roof assembly is sealed with a vapor tight liquid seal. The seal consists of a trough which is approximately one foot wide and three feet deep. It contains approximately four thousand gallons of fuel oil.

On the morning of May 29, the premium grade gasoline tank was emptied of its remaining 168,000 gallons of gasoline so the job of cleaning it could begin during the next week. The manholes at the bottom of the tank were removed and there was about a foot of sludge located therein.

In the afternoon, a severe thunderstorm moved across the County, bring heavy rain, hail and strong winds. During the storm, Highway Patrolman Shaw pulled off the road across from the Shell Terminal because of the heavy rain. He saw a bolt of lightning hit the tank and saw a big red flash as the top went up. Flames shot about 150 feet in the air.

At 5:31 p.m., Dispatcher Brown received three simultaneous calls to report the fire at Shell Oil Company. At 5:32 p.m., the first equipment was responding. At 5:36 p.m., the first equipment arrived on the scene.

Chief Parsons, who also arrived at 5:36 p.m., made an immediate size-up of the situation. It was determined that the initial explosion had raised the lifter roof out of the trough and set it off center about a foot There were heavy clouds of black smoke pouring out around the top of the tank. The tips or orange flames were visible around the edge of the tank. The fuel oil in the trough, in which the lifter roof sat, had been ignited by the explosion. The sides of the tank near the top were discoloring, and large pieces of white paint were falling off. It was also evident that there had been a blow out from the two large manholes at the base of the tank, as nearby valves were scorched.

Consultation with the Plant Superintendent revealed the exact situation of the tank in regard to amount of contents. The decision was then made to cool the outside rim oi the tank and to avoid getting water into ,the burning trough which might cause re-ignition of the vapors coming off of the sludge.

[The] Guilford College Fire Department Foam Truck was moved into a position where two (2) 2 ½-inch lines were wyed off with four (4) 1 ½-inch were used to cool the rim of the tank. A 2 ½-inch foam line was pulled off and placed in readiness. Water was supplied by mutual aid tanker relay. A 3-inch line was laid to the foam truck by a supply pumper. The foam line was hauled up the ladder and foam was gently applied into the trough. In a just minutes, all of the fire was extinguished as the foam filled up the trough.

All equipment was back in service by 8:15 p.m.


We are still looking toward the future in the jet age. Guilford County is building a Communication-command post van out of a surplus unit. It will be available for large emergencies where coordination with many different agencies is needed. We hope to see the expansion of the Inter-city radio frequency so that there can be established closer inter-county mutual aid programs. We are developing, with the help of the medical disaster team of the County, disaster medical kits which will he available for physicians operating on the scene of large emergencies. These kits are stored in moisture-proof boxes which are easily transported to the scene of an emergency.

The use of data processing in fire records, equipment inventory and road naming is being examined.

I have attempted to show you how we are trying to keep up with changing fire protection developments in Guilford County. We must learn to be vigorous and not afraid, of ideas. We must push ahead to keep up with changing times or we will be like the fire chief quoted in the “Fire Chief’s Lament.”

“One day as he sat musing, sad and depressed because his department seldom held drills—a voice came to him from out of the gloom saying, ‘cheer up. Things could be worse’. So he cheered up and sure enough, things got worse—and the largest store in town burned down because the driver missed the hydrant—the pump operator couldn’t hit pump gear—the ladder lines were tangled in the rungs—the nozzleman grabbed too small a line—there was no mutual aid set up to provide organized help and no one was familiar with the interior layout of the store, so the crew just squirted water and let the building burn down.”

Yes, this is the age of technology of jets, of space and on beyond. The fire service, with its fine old traditions, must prepare itself for what lies ahead.

As we are thrust into the future, we are also thrust into new problems, new needs, new duties, -and new challenges. Constantly, we are compelled to refocus our thoughts, reshape our opinions, alter our direction. Not one of us can think today as we did yesterday about youth, art, leisure, government, education, taxes, wages, and fire service. Today is a new day! We can live and be masters only as we learn to match the infinite diversity of change occurring around about us.

This is the ,challenge of the jet age, Mr. Fire Chief. Mutual Aid – Pre-planning – Training – Fire Prevention – Tactics – Communications.

These are our tools. Let’s use them wisely.


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