Raleigh Firefighter Loses Leg, 1958

This is an expanded version of a blog archives posting (PDF) from September 4, 2012.

The history of the Raleigh Fire Department includes instances of members who were permanently disabled as a result of injuries on duty. Here’s one of those stories.  

RFD yearbook portrait, 1984

On February 18, 1958, Raleigh firefighter Claude W. Johnson broke his leg on duty. As that day’s Raleigh Times article reported, he fell on ice at the scene of a house fire at 407 Polk Street. Fire Chief Jack Keeter said “he jumped a fence and fell on the ice.” He added that Johnson “was in satisfactory condition, but would be in the hospital for some time.” Johnson was admitted to Rex Hospital, records a notation in a Raleigh Fire Department Local 548 Ladies Auxiliary scrapbook.

Five fire companies responded to the 6:45 a.m. blaze, which was reported by fire department switchboard operator Roy High, while he was returning home from night shift at Station 1. The upstairs ten-room frame house was severely damaged, reported the next day’s News & Observer. No residents were injured, “although it forced occupants into the street in night clothes.” 

Added the paper, “neighbors joined the family in carrying the furniture to safety. Mrs. Throne said she was getting her 11 year-old daughter off to school, when she saw smoke and noticed a trace of fire around the fire place in the living room. The flame moved from the basement along the chimney to the second story. Firemen were forced to fight the fire from the attic entrance.”

The News & Observer on March 24, 1958, reported that doctors had amputated the left leg of the 31-year-old fireman. (His correct age was 34 years old.) The date of his injury was reported as March 1, which may be the date of the amputation. He lost about four inches of his leg below the knee. Surgery was required as blood had stopped circulating to the injured limb. Officials spoke to reports about Johnson on Friday, March 21, 1958.

Johnson had been a member of the department for three years, the article reported, and was a Rolesville native.[1] Officials were quoted as saying he’d be transferred to the fire department’s switchboard.[2]

Johnson retired on March 30, 1976. That’s four years after the Raleigh and Wake County Emergency Communications Center assumed call-taking and dispatching duties.[3] 

Johnson died on July 27, 1991, at the age of 67. Cause of death was pneumonia, follow the onset of “parkinsonian” three years earlier. He and his surviving wife Annie Driver Johnson lived in Raleigh. He was buried at Watkins Chapel Baptist Church Cemetery in Middlesex, NC

[1]Claude Johnson joined the department in September 16, 1956.  

[2]Driver Vernon J. Smith also lost his leg, in an apparatus accident on November 14, 1952. He worked in light-duty roles as his health permitted, including as dispatcher. He died of his injuries on March 10, 1956.

[3]Roy High, mention in the first paragraph, was a former firefighter. He was also seriously injured in an apparatus accident, when the “squad truck” and a Greyhound bus collided on September 11, 1947. High and Firefighter H. S. Stephenson were both thrown from the vehicle, and sustained injuries. As the story goes, High never returned to line duty, and remained a dispatcher the rest of his career.

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