Raleigh Rescue Early History

Notes on the early history of the Raleigh Emergency Rescue Squad. This is a placeholder posting which will be updated and expanded over time. Related: How Often Did Raleigh Rescue Transport Patients?



First proposal for a Raleigh rescue squad. Former Fire Chief W. R. Butts, Captain Jack Keeter, and others “came to the astute conclusion” that the city needed a rescue squad, an “organization of trained men properly equipped to handle disaster cases.” Other communities had them, “why not Raleigh?” Then came a change of administration and “nothing constructive concerning this matter was accomplished.” After Bill Carper was hired as City Manager, “the subject arose again.” This time there was “more than just interesting manifested” in the community’s need to be “properly prepared in case of dire emergency.” Carper was a “man of action” and had organized similar units in Culpepper and Fredericksburg, VA. Source: Undated document. 

1952 [?]

Creation of a Raleigh rescue squad is started. The momentum starts after a driver is pinned under a truck on Hillsboro Street and criticism comes to the fire and police departments because of the delay in extricating the man. Criticism also comes after a drowning in the Neuse River several miles from Raleigh. After a week passes without anyone recovering the body, City Manager W. H. Harper asks Assistant Fire Chief Jack Keeter to help in any way he can. Keeter, Assistant Chief Lee Matthews, civilian Bob Biggs, and future [?] police officer Andy Povlosky borrow a fishing boat from one man, a motor from another man, and transport both to the river in Keeter’s pick-up truck. The four launch the boat, with Povlosky and Matthews riding around until they find and recover the body.

Note: Keeter was appointed as Asst. Chief circa September 17, 1952.

1953 – January to June

January 14 – City Manager W. H. Carper announces that plans for a rescue squad in Raleigh are “well advanced.”

He defines the concept as a “group of men trained in the knowledge of first aid and life saving work” and that the city has needed the services of such an organization “for some time.” He notes that “efforts were made a few years back to get a squad started” but “the spark didn’t catch.” The idea has been kept alive by Asst. Fire Chief Jack Keeter, Police Captain Andrew Pavlovsky, and others. They and others have visited squads in North Carolina and Virginia[1], and have returned with information for starting a program in Raleigh. This work led to a recent meeting at which 35 firemen, policemen, doctors, and other citizens participated to organize a local rescue squad. Keeter was appointed temporary chairman.

As its first step, it appointed as instructor Russell Cobb Nicholson for a 32-hour course in Red Cross first aid. The course will also be the qualifying course for charter members. Upon completion, they will adopt a constitution, elect officers, and start acquiring equipment. Basic equipment items–squad truck and boats–have already been authorized in the current city budget. Others pieces of equipment may be received through business donations. The squad will be housed at the new Central Fire Station on Dawson Street and be “directed to scenes at accidents” by “two trained first aid firemen assigned to this duty.” (N&O, 1/15/53)

[1] Notes an undated document, they “studied the set-up” in Winston-Salem and  Greensboro, in North Carolina, and in Danville, Lynchburg, Martinsville, and Roanoke, VA. 

March 18 – Newspaper reports that the Civil Defense Director of Raleigh and Wake County, Col. David L. Hardee, has “issued a call for volunteer auxiliary firemen for regular firemen’s work and for others serve in the heavy rescue squad for which additional equipment is expected soon.” He’s requesting 10 to 15 men for the rescue squad, and 30 to 40 men for auxiliary firemen. They should report at once to Asst. Chief J. B. Keeter at Station 1 for enrollment. He’s available “for this purpose during all working houses.” Training is now underway each second and fourth Thursday night, from 8 to 9 p.m. at Station 1, for those who have already joined the “heavy rescue squad.” Additional members are needed. A special “heavy duty rescue truck” that’s fully equipped is expected to arrive mid-April, and “preliminary training is to begin at once.” The story also notes that volunteer police offices are being sought for an auxiliary police force. (N&O, 3/18/54)

[ Efforts to organize a force of auxiliary firemen were apparently unsuccessful, unlike the initiative in 1941 that saw the creation and training of volunteer fire companies in Raleigh. ]

April 15 – Preliminary training starts for prospective members of the rescue squad. Twenty-eight men attended a course in standard and advanced first aid in the basement of Memorial Auditorium. The course is being taught by Russell C. Nicholson, training office for the North Carolina Council of Civil Defense. Upon completion of the 32-hour course, the rescue squad will be [considered as] organized. The squad is the eighteenth to be organized in the state, and all are incorporated into the state civil defense program. 

April 24 – City Council approves a resolution to obtain a “mobile rescue unit designed for use at accident scenes and in disasters areas.” The federal government will pay of the cost, $9,200, with the stipulation that “the unit be sent to Norfolk, VA, for service” if that city becomes a “crucial target in time of war.” The city will pay $4,600, and can be drawn from a fund in the budget for purchasing this type of equipment. The unit will be operated by a “volunteer rescue squad” of about 20 or 30 men, who would be recruited from “various civic clubs.” The truck would essentially serve as an “emergency hospital on wheels” and would be equipped to treat cases of “near-drowning, electric shock, and other types of physical disability.” (N&O, 4/25/53)


Pictured in the News & Observer on June 19, 1953, is a group photo with this caption:

RALEIGH’S RESCUE SQUAD – Here are charter members of Raleigh’s new Rescue Squad, just organized and training for volunteer work at accident scenes and in case of disasters. It is the function of such a group to give assistance at accident or disaster scenes until doctors arrive to take over. Jack B. Keeter is president; A. E: Leavitt, vice-president;  H. D. Jones, secretary; Roy Critcher, treasurer; Roy High, reporter: and C: R. Puryear, 
historian. Pictured above, front row, left to right: Bob Biggs, A. E. Leavitt, G. L. Firth, J. B. Keeter, R. C. Nicholson, H. D. Jones, W. R. Mabry, and H. E. Partin. Back row, W. B. Lloyd, J. N. McClary, O. Summers, R. L. Wilder, L. Q. Godwin, R. P. High, C. R. Puryear, Joe Carter, Roy Critcher and Bob Battle. The squad will be housed permanently in the new fire station, on South Dawson Street when it is completed. A completely-equipped truck  is on order. Applications for membership may be made with Asst. Fire Chief Keeter at Fire Station 1.

This text description survives in records, and likely accompanied the group photo: 

The RALEIGH RESCUE SQUAD, long a dream, is now a reality. Men pictured and named in the above photograph make up the Charter Membership of this squad. It has been a recognized fact that for sometime the City of Raleigh and the surrounding community has badly needed the services of a rescue squad. A rescue squad being generally defined as a group of men trained in the knowledge of first aid and life saving work. A rescue squad would normally be equipped with a squad truck carrying equipment of first aid materials, gas masks, boats, drag lines, burn kits, and all other similar types of equipment needed for various and sundry types of accidents and rescue work. A rescue squad does its work from the time the accident happens until a doctor arrive to take charge of the problem. In many instances the work of a rescue squad has to be continued on the scene for a number of hours before the injured can be prepared, removal to hospitals, etc. Furthermore, a rescue squad is of extreme value in the event of major disasters or catastrophes such as train wrecks, explosions, etc., in which a large number of people are injured.

Standard and Advanced Courses of training in American Red Cross First Aid were completed by these men to qualify for squad membership. Officers of the Rescue Squad are as follows:

Jack Keeter, President
A. E. Leavitt, Vice President
H. D. Jones, Secretary
Roy Critcher, Treasurer
Roy High, Reporter
C. R. Puryear, Historian

Temporary Officers:
Bobby Biggs, Captain
W. R. Mabrey, 1st Lieutenant
J. H. Riggan, 2nd Lieutenant
G. L. Firth, Equipment Supervisor

Although its permanent housing awaits the completion of the Central Fire Station and being short on having its equipment on hand, the squad is nevertheless very active. On the first and third Wednesday nights of each month the squad meets and studies emergency equipment and rescue problems.

A new completed equipped rescue squad truck is on order aid expected to be delivered within three or four months. The squad has a resuscitator available and a complete set of padded splints, including spinal fracture boards made by its membership, also two outboard motors. It is expected that two boats will be acquired some time in July to equip the squad for water emergencies.

When the squad receives its needed equipment and is properly housed at Central Fire Station most any kind of accident or injury will find a ready helping hand from trained First Aid and Rescue Men.

Ass’t Chief Keeter said he would be glad to have any man in Raleigh who might be interested in voluntary emergency rescue work and in becoming a member of the Raleigh Hescue Squad contact him at No. 1 Fire Station.

1953 – July to December

August 18 – Squad members assist in searching Gresham’s Lake for a drowning victim. (N&O, 11/19/53)

October 5 – New Station 1 completed at 220 S. Dawson Street. The rescue boats are housed at the new fire station. The trailer was designed and built by members. The city provided the funds for the two (wooden) boats and their outboard motors. 

October 5 – County attorney directed by county Board of Commissioners to get a ruling from the Attorney General’s office on the “possibility of the county participation in the cost of an emergency squad for rescuing drowned persons.” The squad already exists, and was organized seven or eight months ago by A. E. Leavitt. It has 24 volunteers, two boats, two motors, and a trailer for the boats. They now need a pickup truck or panel truck to haul the equipment. The squad, which is “controlled by a [radio-dispatch] board in Fire Station 1,” is “supposed to work throughout the county.” Thus, they felt that the county should share in the cost. The commissioners, however, were unsure if county funds could be used for that purpose, unless the squad worked under the direction of the “county Civil Defense unit.” (N&O, 10/6/53)

October 24 – Certificate of Incorporation issued to the Raleigh Emergency Rescue Squad Incorporated by the Office of the Secretary of State. 

November 13 – The rescue squad attends a meeting of the Raleigh Kiwanis Club and introduces their organization and provides demonstrations of their work. They demonstrate “first aid treatment for carbon monoxide victims, for persons injured in falls, and for those hurt in explosions.” Dr. Earl Brian assists with the demonstrations. (N&O, 11/14/53)

1954 – January to April


Reported in News Observer on April 13, 1954, the county Board of Commissioners has approved the request of the county Civil Defense Director of an expenditure not exceeding $2,500, to purchase a “light truck for the transportation of light rescue equipment.”

Raleigh Asst. Chief Jack Keeter is expected to purchase the truck and equip it at once. The city has already provided most of the equipment and annual salaries for two full-time drivers. [Assumption: Staffing of two per day.] The equipment would be used both for rescuing people “trapped in fires” but also for saving people drowning. Would be operated largely by volunteers from the “auxiliary fire detachment” now being formed. 

The light-duty truck was for county-wide use, and can answer calls on most all county roads and “negotiate most of the light bridges.” The larger heavy-duty rescue truck would arrive in August, at last report. Once arrived and in service, they planned to keep “one on the job for emergencies” and the other in reserve “if another call comes in.” The heavy rescue truck would be going to the “worst jobs” said the director. 

Chief Keeter was in charge of the “auxiliary fire department” and was enrolling 15 to 20 people for rescue work, and wanted 30 to 40 for “regular fire department work.” The police department was also training an “auxiliary police department.” 

[ Alas, efforts at creating a formal “auxiliary fire department” apparently stalled. There are no records of such an entity coming to full fruition. And that’s in contrast to the auxiliary fire companies that were formed in the city during World War II. ]

June 3

Reported the News & Observer on June 3, 1954, the “light emergency rescue truck for civil defense use” has arrived at Station 1. Chief Keeter and “his class of auxiliary firemen” are “assembling the equipment.” They hope to “have it on the street this week for recruiting purposes and demonstration.” 

June 13

The fire department answered a heart attack call on West Whitaker Mill Road at 7:45 a.m. on June 13, 1954. This is likely the first recorded call for the rescue squad. That and these other calls were recorded between June and September of that year.

Jun 13, 1953 – 7:45 a.m. – W. Whitaker Mill Road – Man had heart attack
Jun 13, 1953 – 1:36 p.m. – Raleigh Airport – Standby
Jun 14, 1953 – 8:30 a.m. – Raleigh Airport – Standby
Jun 15, 1953 – 12:00 noon – Norris Street – Help locate lost child
Jun 25, 1953 – 1:40 p.m. – County – Man drowned – Used resuscitator – 38 mile round trip [Little River in Zebulon, from news reports]
Jul 05, 1953 – 4:20 p.m. – US 15-A (10 miles) – Drowning
Jul 25, 1953 – 12:15 p.m. – Peace Street – Let woman into house
Aug 14, 1953 – 7:30 p.m. – New Bern Avenue – To let girl into house
Aug 18, 1953 – 10:44 a.m. – Gresham’s Lake (6 miles outside [city limits]) – Boy drowned
Sep 04, 1953 – 6:00 p.m. – Park View Apartments – To open door
Sep 30, 1953 – 5:37 p.m. – Peace Street – Open door

Unfortunately, no units are recorded in the above ledger book entries.

[ Were the June airport stand-by calls for the rescue truck? Quite possibly. The News & Observer on June 15, 1953, tells about the fifth annual Civil Air Patrol statewide “search-rescue” mission that ended on June 14. Some 36 aircraft flew a total of 69 practice missions. One of the drills simulated a crashed naval aircraft near Bunn, which sent “rescue units” dispatched from Raleigh Municipal Airport. Were those “Raleigh Rescue” units? Could be.

Similarly, were the “locked door” and “lost child” calls also rescue calls? Seems possible and maybe probable.

What calls were answered after September 30, 1953? Alas, those ledger reports are still missing. Ditto for log books from that era. ]

1954 – July to December


Insurance policy purchased for GMC panel truck and homemade trailer on June 1, 1954, from Bagwell and Bagwell insurance company. Coverage costs $193.54. Source: Invoice.


By July 16, 1954, Rescue 1 has been placed in service at Station 1 with a 1954 GMC panel van.

July 16 – The new (small) rescue truck, the boats, and the boat trailer are pictured in a News & Observer story. The equipment will be displayed today and Saturday, from 10 to 5, on “upper Fayetteville Street.” The story notes that the truck carries “a resuscitator, inhalator, cutting torch, hydraulic jacks, gas masks, smoke masks, all types of first-aid and rescue equipment, and a complete physician’s first-aid emergency kit.” And the boats are equipped with “motors, life preservers, grappling hooks, and other equipment needed in water recoveries.” It notes that the squad is supervised by Asst. Chief Keeter, with Captain C. R. Puryear supervising 35 volunteer members. The two “assigned truck drivers” are Harold Jones and R. L. Wilder. It is noted that the squad is “not operating in competition with commercial ambulances,” but it can be “summoned in emergencies” by calling “Raleigh 7733,” the number of Station 1. (N&O, 7/16/54)

August to December

Raleigh Rescue also responded to these incidents:

  • September – Drowning near Cary, at Bank’s Pond off Reedy Creek Road.
  • October – Drowning at rock quarry in Wendell.


On November 3, the 1955 Reo/_____ Civil Defense heavy-rescue truck was delivered. [Alternate date is earlier. The truck was picked up in Michigan by October 13, notes correspondence from the company and the county office of civil defense. However, TBD if it was procured by squad members, or by third party.] Equipment carried on the 2 1/2-ton truck included torches, power saws, gas masks, helmets, and first-aid equipment. [ Note, this truck was previously cited as 1953 and 1954 model years. ]


Summary of rescue squad calls for 1955. From the News & Observer, January 31, 1956.

Total 97 calls, reported Chief Keeter. 

    • 52 – Stand by for fire, “at places where crowds congregate”, include 20 false calls
    • 14 – School visits, for demonstrations
    • 14 – “Give aid to sick and helpless”
    • 9 – Body recoveries from water. (Three of whom survived.)
    • 6 – Heart attack “cases”
    • 2 – Rescue demonstration requests

[ What exactly was the first call type/category. Unsure. Was it a “rescue watch” of sorts? And how were false calls defined? TBD. ]  

Later History

1959 – August 23 – Rescue squad volunteer member Robert L. Battle, 45, drowns in the Cape Fear River, while assisting with a search for a missing boater, who was missing after his fishing boat overturned the day before, about two miles above the Buckhorn Dam. Battle was a Wake County Sheriff’s Deputy of four years, and previous a city police officer. 

1962 – May 23 – News story includes this organizational information. Squad is comprised of “some 25 to 30 volunteers, led by Raleigh firemen Harold Jones and Ralph Hailey,” and who “serve only on the Rescue Squad, each heading a 12-hour shift.” Twelve other squad members are firemen who “serve on the Rescue Squad in their off-duty hours. Other members of the squad are railroad dispatchers, bus drivers, insurance men, store clerks…” The squad answers “a hundred or more calls a year.” (N&O, 5/23/62)

1962 – May 23 – By this time, squad equipment includes two complete scuba diving sets, which Harold Jones and Ralph Hailey have been trained to use.” (N&O, 5/23/62)

1966 – August 18 – Chevy C360 panel van purchased as new Rescue 1. Source: Legeros apparatus register.

1967 – September 25 – City council temporary suspends for 90 days an ordinance requiring ambulance firms to answer all emergency calls. This is done in response to Ambulance Service of Raleigh, which is the primary source of service in the city, and their threat to stop operating due to financial concerns. During the suspension, the following conditions of service will apply:

  • Raleigh Rescue will “answer emergency calls on the public ways” in the city.
  • Ambulance Service of Raleigh and Overby’s Funeral Home will answer emergency calls on private property in the city on a rotating basis.
  • Emergency ambulance service outside of Raleigh will be provided by Wake Memorial Hospital.
  • Private ambulance services outside of Raleigh will be provided by private ambulance companies. 
  • Raleigh Rescue will provide ambulance service only within the city limits. However, it will continue to provide rescue service outside the city, to the county. 
  • Wake Memorial Hospital will assist the city if the rescue squad is tied up, or if there’s a “major crisis.” 
  • The city will charged $29 for each emergency ambulance call, plus $5 additional if oxygen is administered. (N&O, 9/22/67)

1972 – April – Profile of the rescue squad in the Raleigh Times, includes such details as:

  • County pays $100 a month to the squad, which is kept in a fund, and pays for insurance for the rescue officers, and other needed materials.
  • Over time, the amount of rescue work increased, and now four firemen aid the two rescue officers in their work. 
  • The rescue squad is not in competition with local ambulance services, and doesn’t transport patients to a hospital unless ambulances aren’t available.

1974 – July 1 – By this time, two rescue units are in service, with additional allocated positions. The FY74 city budget includes authorized positions for Fire Rescue Officer (6), Fire Rescue Services Officer II (7), and Fire Rescue Services Commander (1). Total 14 positions.

1974 – October __ – Rescue 1 receives 1975 Chevy Silverado/Murphy ambulance. Purchase partially funded with matching federal Civil Defense funds. Source: Legeros apparatus register.

1974 – October 28 – Rescue 9 placed in service with 1974 Chevy Silverado/Murphy ambulance. Same notes as above.

1975 – April – Two rescue boats and trailers donated by Jeffries Auto Marina Service. The lightweight 14-foot aluminum boats replace a pair of heavier wooden ones. The donation originates from a conversation several months ago between Chief Keith and Mr. Jeffries, noting the difficulty in loading and unloading the rescue squad’s wooden boats. Chief Keith noted to Mr. Jeffries that the older boats took six people to load and unload, and ten people to get the boats into hard-to-reach area. Source: Council minutes.

1975 – July – Two new outboard motors for the new boats are among $1,656 worth of rescue and training equipment given to the fire department by the Independent Insurance Agents Association of Raleigh. (N&O, 7/3/75)

1976 – April-May – City Council adopts plan for ambulance service jointly funded by the city and the county. The plan calls for four new ambulances to be purchased and located at Stations 1, 2, 3, 9, 14, and 15. The city would hire and train 24 new firemen for the program, and also use existing fire department rescue vehicles. The plan is created in response to funding problems encountered by the private ambulance services that serve the city of Raleigh and nearby suburban areas. The plan is later scrapped, when the county chooses to create their own service, as a new Wake County EMS department, to provide emergency ambulance service to Raleigh residents, and areas immediately outside the city that are not served by volunteer rescue squads. 

1976 – July 28 – Rescue 1 moved to Station 3.

1978 – July 24 – Rescue 3 moved to Station 12 and Rescue 9 moved to Station 14.

1982 – February 1 – Rescue 12 moved to Station 7, Rescue 14 moved to Station 6. 

1985 – March 6 – Rescue units plan to take over assist invalid calls [from which agency?]. 

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