North Carolina Firefighter Fatalities During Interior Operations

On March 29, 2024, Lexington Fire Department Captain Ronnie B. Metcalf, 54, died after being injured during an interior fire attack at a house fire on March 26. What’s the historical perspective of other firefighters in North Carolina, who were killed during or from injuries sustained during interior operations? That list includes the following:

Theodore W. Stoner
High Point

Captain Stoner died of burn injuries received while fighting a fire at Pickett Cotton Mill on the night of July 17, 1925. Stone had led several firefighters into a pit to extinguish a small fire in a bale of cotton. The fire spread suddenly and the cotton became “a mass of flames.” The other firefighters escaped without injuries, but Stoner was badly burned before being rescued. He suffered burns about the face and body, and died at High Point Hospital four days later. On the day of the fire, Stoner had just returned from the state firemen’s convention in Asheville, arriving about 8:00 p.m. He had been home for less than an hour when the fire bell sounded. Stoner was a volunteer member who was employed as a wholesale grocery salesman. 

Sources: Hickory Daily Record, 7/18/25; High Point Enterprise, 7/22/25, 7/23/25; Charlotte Observer, 7/22/25; Raleigh News and Observer, 7/19/25, 7/23/25

Gilbert W. Kimball

Lieutenant Kimball died of injuries sustained in a roof collapse on the night of February 10, 1934, while fighting a fire in the garage and servants quarters at a home on Country Club and Bitting roads, at the residence of former state Senator W. M. Hendren. While inside the structure, Company 6 members Kimball and firefighter Franklin Griffith became trapped after the heavy rafters of the roof collapsed. Both were rescued. Griffith suffered injuries to his back and hips. Kimball died the following day at North Carolina Baptist Hospital. The cause of death was recorded as pneumonia following internal injuries. Kimball had been a member of WSFD for 12 years.

Sources: COD, Greensboro Daily News, 2/13/34; Winston-Salem Journal, 2/9/34, 2/13/34, 2/14/34

Floyd A. Jackson Jr.

Firefighter Jackson died after he fell through a partially burned floor while fighting a fire at Brunswick Lunch and Billiards at 241 N. Main Street. He was one of four firefighters inside the building when he fell through the floor about 6:30 a.m. The falling table landed on his neck and he was killed instantly. The fire started about 5:30 a.m. and was confined mostly to the basement. The fire was nearly entirely out at the time of the accident. Floyd had been a member of HFD for more than four years.

Sources: Asheville Citizen-Times, 11/27/50, Statesville Daily Record, 11/27/50

Charles A. Werhan

Firefighter Werhan died of asphyxiation at a fire after being trapped inside the Susquehanna Antique Company at 23 Biltmore Avenue. The fire was reported about 3:30 p.m. at the two-story furniture and antique store. Werhan became trapped after the second story collapsed. He was found pinned under a piano. Firefighters and a physican administered oxygen and aid for more than hour, before he was removed from the building. Werhan was pronounced dead on arrival at Memorial Mission Hospital. More than 50 firefighters fought the fire for two and a half hours before it was brought under control. Werhan had been a member of AFD for three years.

Sources: Asheville Times, 12/10/63; 12/11/63; Raleigh News & Observer, 12/10/63; Winston-Salem Journal, 12/10/63

Ernest V. Wilkie Jr.

Assistant Chief Wilkie died at Watts Hospital in Durham several hours after becoming overcome by smoke while searching for the source of a fire in a house at 1014 Green Street. The fire was reported at 1:40 a.m. Wilkie was not wearing an air mask when he entered the house with other firefighters. After they went through the house, the other firefighters exited the structure. One asked Wilkie if he was all right before leaving. Wilkie said he was okay. About 15 minutes later, crews discovered that Wilkie was missing. They started searching for him and Mickey Tezai, a member of the DFD rescue squad, found Wilkie unconscious near a rear bedroom. Fire Chief Cosmo Cox later said that Wilkie, having stayed behind in the building, had opened a bedroom door and the amount of smoke increased. The large frame house was nearly entirely destroyed, despite four hours and 45 minutes of work by the firefighters. It was started by a furnace. Wilkie had been a member of DFD for 21 years.

Sources: Durham Sun, 1/20/70, 1/21/70; Raleigh News and Observer, 1/21/70.

Roy E. Gay
High Point

Captain Gay was killed while fighting fire inside the Country Furniture Store at 607 Idol Drive. He and Lieutenant Arthur Davidson relieved two firefighters who had been operating a hose inside the showroom. Gay was assigned to Engine 3, one of the later-arriving units. Both Gay and Davidson became trapped by flames that broke through the ceiling and surrounded them. Davidson escaped by crawling through the fire until he collapsed near an outside door. Another 20 minutes passed before firefighters had cooled the building enough to start searching for Gay. He was found on the floor, about 15 feet inside the door. He was believed to have died instantly. Davidson received severe burns that covered nearly half his body and permanently disfigured his hands. Firefighter R. E. Oliphant was also injured and treated for smoke inhalation. The fire was reported about 8:00 a.m. and took the entire night to extinguish. The one-story, 25,000 square-foot building was destroyed. It was believed to have been intentionally set, but no arrests were ever made.

Sources: Greensboro News & Record, 10/4/02; High Point Enterprise, 11/__/70, 11/3/20; Winston-Salem Journal, 11/2/70. 

Joseph P. Jenkins

Firefighter Jenkins suffered severe burns while attempting to rescue a man at a house fire on Old Concord Road on July 8, 1971. The fire was reported at 8:45 p.m. and arriving units found heavy fire conditions. Jenkins entered the back door and walked through two small rooms to a bathroom, where he apparently became lost. He walked back through the two rooms, trying to find a way out, apparently bumped into a table, and turned left into the bedroom that was full of flames, instead of turning right to the back door. Jenkins was rescued from the bedroom and transported to Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill with severe burn injuries. He died of his injuries three weeks later, developing pneumonia after being operated on. While he was being rescued, firefighters also discovered the body of a 28 year-old occupant. Jenkins had been a member of SFD for one year and had been named “Rookie Fireman of the Year” that year by the Salisbury Rotary Club. 

Sources: Charlotte Observer, 7/10/71, 8/5/71; Salisbury Evening Post, 7/9/71, 7/30/71, 8/5/71, 8/18/71; Winston-Salem Journal, 8/4/71.

Billy Ray Faircloth

Firefighter Faircloth was killed while working at a fire inside Mitchell’s Department Store, which was about two miles from the center of town. The fire started about 7:48 p.m. on a Friday night in the basement of the store, which was the main occupant of a 30,000 square-foot, L-shaped structure. Faircloth entered the building with the first firefighters at the scene and became trapped in heavy smoke. Said Fire Chief Sam Bost, “I was talking to him [on the radio]. We got  them all out and he was still in there. I kept telling him, find the hose line and get out. But he ran out of air and couldn’t make it out.” Search efforts were hampered by intense heat and a caved-in roof. His body was found about 6:30 a.m. the following morning. Several other firefighters were injured, including Jeff Crowson, treated for lung damage at Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill. Six departments battled the blaze for more than three hours before it was controlled. The building also contained other stores, all of which were damaged. Faircloth had been a member of SFD for either four or six years [conflicting reports]. Before that, he was a volunteer member of Cape Fear VFD, where his father had been chief for several years.

Sources: Charlotte Observer, 3/16/80; Durham Morning Herald, 3/15/80; Raleigh News and Observer, 3/16/80, 3/18/80; Raleigh Times, 3/15/80. 

Hampton L. Hobbs
Firefighter Hobbs died from injuries suffered at March 15 house fire at 701 West Main Street. Crews battled the blaze for six hours at the antebellum Virginius Faison Williams Home. Hobbs received head injuries when plastering felling on him while he and three others where carrying a fire hose up the stairs of the three-story frame structure. He was admitted to the intensive care unit at Duplin General Hospital. Several others were treated at the scene after being overcome by smoke or exhaustion. Two others were treated for injuries at Mount Olive Family Medical Center and at Duplin General Hospital. Hobbs also wasn’t wearing an air pack during the fire and inhaled a lot of smoke when the ceiling fell. He contracted a bad case of emphysema, and later died from complications. Cardiac arrest was listed as cause of death. He died at Duplin General Hospital. Hobbs was a volunteer member of FFD and his occupation was a farmer. 

Sources: Goldsboro News-Argus, 3/16/81, OH, COD.

Robert M. Wynn
Wrightsville Beach

Lieutenant Wynn died after becoming trapped in the Hanover Seaside Club at 550 South Lumina Avenue, when a pressurized petroleum tank exploded, enveloping the building in flames. Wynn and firefighter Jonathan Dennison were inside when it exploded. Dennison jumped out a window and escaped, suffering severe burns. Wynn was found on the second-story porch with the hoses to his air pack burned. Efforts to revive him failed. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. Smoke inhalation was recorded as the cause of death. Wynn was a volunteer member of WBFD and was employed as an assistant manager of the Blockade Runner hotel.

Sources: COD; Raleigh News and Observer, 12/7/81; Winston-Salem Journal, 12/7/81; Orange Street Films, 12/7/18,, WECT,; 12/3/19; 

Raymond J. Flowers

Firefighter Flowers was killed when the steeple collapsed during a fire at the West Asheville Baptist Church, at 926 Haywood Road. The fire was reported at 10:16 p.m., after lightning struck the steeple and set the attic ablaze. Shortly after crews made entry, the steeple collapsed. Either three or six firefighters [varying accounts] were in the church at the time of the collapse. Two other firefighters were injured. Flowers’ body was recovered in the debris about 4:00 p.m. the next day. He had been a member of the department for a little over a year. The church, which was destroyed, was located just two doors down from Fire Station 6. 

Sources: Asheville Citizen, 5/28/82, 5/31/82; Asheville Times, 5/29/82.

James L. Harris
Gregory M. Lamm
Asa T. Squires
Jesse M. Woolard Jr.
National Spinning Company, Washington

The four fire brigade members died of smoke inhalation while fighting a fire at a yarn-making plant. The 12:08 a.m. fire started in a storage area in the back of the factory, from a wire that sparked above a container of acrylic yarn. The burning yarn caused thick smoke that quickly filled the plant. The sprinkler system also activated and helped confine the fire to one room about the size of a football field. Some 150 to 200 third-shift workers were evacuated. Harris, Lamm, Squires, and Jesse Woolard were dead by the time firefighters reached them. A fifth fire brigade member, Terry Wollard, was rescued and transported to the hospital. He was found unconscious in an office area. Three departments spent more than four hours trying to control the fire, with smoke so thick that they tied ropes to themselves to find their way out. It was extinguished about 4:30 a.m. Squires was a supervisor at the plant. Harris was a maintenance worker. Lamm was a packing operator. Jesse Woolard was a machine loader. Terry Woolard, unrelated to Jesse, was also a supervisor.

Sources: Forthcoming

Timothy P. Bennett

Firefighter Bennett died of smoke inhalation at a fire at the Richmond Yarns Mill on Highway 220 South. He was searching for the fire and became lost in the building. The time of death was recorded as 2:30 p.m. Bennett was a volunteer firefighter and was employed as vice president and plant manager at Ellerbe Telephone Company and Ellerbe Cable Television.

Sources: Forthcoming

Robby D. Blizzard, Arrington
Hubert S. Jones, Thoroughfare

Fire Chief Jones and First Lieutenant Blizzard died from smoke inhalation after becoming trapped in a warehouse fire at Wayne Auto Salvage on US 117, about two miles south of Goldsboro. The structure was about eight months old. The fire was reported at 11:15 a.m. on a Friday, started by a spark from a welding torch. After crews ventilated the structure, six firefighters entered the structure advanced two 1 1/2-inch lines through the front door, and found what they believed was the seat of the fire about 80 feet inside the building. Over time, firefighters transferred their lines to others, as their low-air alarms were sounding. About 11 minutes into the fire attack, both crews were ordered to exit, to discuss further strategy. As the crews began to exit, an intense blast of heat and thick smoke covered the area and forced the firefighters to the floor. Most were able to exit the structure with minimal injuries. Chief Jones ran out of air while trying to escape. Blizzard entered the structure to search for Chief Jones, ran out of air, became disoriented, and failed to exit the building. Additional rescue attempts were made but were unsuccessful. Both Blizzard and Jones died from smoke inhalation. Another firefighter and a welder were also transported to the hospital, and other firefighters were treated at the scene for minor injuries. Blizzard was also a career member at Goldsboro FD.

Sources: NIOSH report, + others forthcoming

Joshua B. Earley

Firefighter Earley died of burn injuries after falling through a floor at a house fire at 10334 Harrisburg Road on March 4, 2002. He and three others had entered the house through the front door, when Earley fell through the floor into the burning basement. The three other firefighters pulled Earley out of the basement. He was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, with burns over 80 percent of his body. A short time later, he was airlifted to the burn center in Chapel Hill. He remained in critical condition until he succumb to his injuries two days later. Earley was also a career firefighter in Charlotte, hired in 2001.

Sources: NIOSH report, + others forthcoming

Victor A. Isler
Justin E. Monroe

Firefighters Isler and Monroe were killed while fighting a major fire at Salisbury Mill Work at 1820 S. Martin Luther King Drive. The fire, reported at 7:05 a.m., started in the basement of the 79,000 square-foot main building and spread to other areas. Isler and Monroe were assigned to Quint 4. At 8:43 a.m. Quint 4 was deployed with a hose line to protect a firewall and keep the fire from spreading from the burning office area to the production and warehouse areas. The four-person crew transmitted a mayday at 9:06 a.m. as conditions deteriorated. One firefighter safely exited, but the other three were trapped. Multiple rescue attempts were made and the three were rescued. Monroe died at the scene and Isler was pronounced dead on arrival at Rowan Regional Medical Center. Their captain also received burn injuries. Three members of a rapid-intervention-team were also injured, rescuing the captain. The five-alarm fire brought departments from as far away as Charlotte, some 40 miles south of Salisbury. Most of the building was destroyed.

Sources: NIOSH report, + others forthcoming

Jeffrey S. Bowen

Captain Bowen died of smoke inhalation at a major fire in a multi-story medical office building at 445 Biltmore Avenue. Dispatched at 12:28 a.m. as an automatic fire alarm, Bowen and his company, Rescue 3, were dispatched after command requested a second alarm. While he and a second firefighter were conducting a search of the fifth floor, Bowen called a mayday when the two were unable to find their exit. An additional alarm was requested, and a Rapid Intervention Team was deployed. Both Bowen and second firefighter Jay Bettencourt were located and removed from the building. Bowen suffered cardiac arrest from his exposure to the intense smoke and heat. He was transported to Mission Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Bettencourt suffered burn injuries and was also transported to Mission Hospital, and then transferred to a medical center in Augusta, GA. Eight other firefighters were also transported to Mission Hospital, and three were treated and released. The four-alarm fire was under control by 3:00 p.m. It was later determined as intentional.

Sources: NIOSH report, + others forthcoming

Richard M. Sheltra

Firefighter Sheltra died of smoke inhalation while fighting a fire at a strip mall on Pineville-Matthews Road. Lightning started the fire at Edwin Watts Golf Store, which was dispatched as a fire alarm activation at 9:06 p.m. The fire department arrived two minutes later. Sheltra was a member of first-due Engine 3 and had entered the structure with three others from Engine 3. After becoming low on air, and trying unsuccessfully to exit the structure in near-zero visibility, Sheltra made a second attempt to exit with a second firefighter. Sheltra became separated and moved to the rear of the store. The second firefighter ran out of air, activated his PASS device, and was rescued by other firefighters. A mayday for Sheltra was transmitted and Sheltra was found about two minutes later. He transported to Carolinas Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. The three-alarm fire occurred in a 7,037 square-foot store, part of a 70,000 square-foot strip mall complex.

Sources: Charlotte Observer, 5/1/06, FEMA notice,, NIOSH report,, Statter911,, WBTV,, WCNC,

Ronnie B. Metcalf

Captain Metcalf died of injuries received at a house fire at 306 West 5th Street on March 26, 2024. The fire was reported just after midnight. Upon arrival, fire and smoke were observed at the back of the house. An interior attack was initiated and a few minutes later, crews were ordered to evacuate. After the structure was evacuated, it was reported that one firefighter was missing. Firefighters re-entered the structure, located, and extricated Metcalf. He was treated by EMS personnel on scene for burn injuries and immediately airlifted to Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. He had suffered burns to 60 percent of his body. Metcalf died three days later. He had been a member of LFD for 19 years.

Sources: Various from web.

Other Fallen Firefighters

The above list doesn’t include fallen firefighters that died at structure fires and from such traumatic causes as:

  • Roof operations
    • Jerry S. Mills, 7/6/1980, Greenville, roof collapse
  • Exterior operations
    • Robert Bellamy, 2/14/1868, Wilmington, wall collapse
    • Richard Merrick, 2/14/1868, Wilmington, wall collapse
    • William A. Ellerbrock, 4/10/1880, Wilmington, wall collapse
    • Joseph B. Willard, 6/17/1893, Wilmington, wall collapse
    • Edward Peed, 2/8/1904, Washington, wall collapse
    • P. Joseph Whitlow, 2/24/1911, Winston, wall collapse
    • Everette A. Carr, 11/26/50, Weldon, wall collapse
    • Oscar D. Willis, 8/10/56, Wilmington, canopy and wall collapse
    • Roy T. Cashion, 10/21/58, North Wilkesboro, wall collapse
    • George V. McPhail Jr., 8/22/71, Rowland, chimney collapse
  • Explosion and fire, while investigating a gas leak
    • Nathan C. Hall, 5/25/79, Shelby
    • George L. Magness, 5/25/79, Shelby
    • Donald E. Melton, 5/25/79, Shelby
    • Floyd P. Sharts, 5/25/79, Shelby
  • Explosion of burning building, due to dynamite
    • William B. Glenn, 7/1/1914, Charlotte
    • J. Harvey Wallace, 7/1/194, Charlotte


In progress, adding under each entry. 

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