North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Histories

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Last updated November 21, 2013. Table of contents was added on August 11, 2016.

Table of Contents

Stories and More - 1902 to 2006


On Saturday, May 6, 2006, firefighters from across the state converged on Nash Square in downtown Raleigh to dedicate the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Monument. A memorial service honored the fallen heroes whose names, departments, and death dates are inscribed on stone plaques.

The 164 names represent line-of-duty firefighter deaths from 1902 to 2005; both career and volunteer protectors who made the supreme sacrifice. These were men and women who rode engines, drove ambulances, flew helicopters, and fought fire as industrial fire brigades. They were heroes of every rank, from Secretary to Fire Chief. These are some of their stories...

Downtown Shelby, May 25, 1979

One of the darkest days in North Carolina's fire service history started as a smoke investigation in downtown Shelby around 6:15 p.m. Firefighters arrived in the 100 block of West Warren Street and found an apparently routine fire in the rear of Geoffrey's Men's Clothing Store. About thirty minutes into the incident, a sudden blast shook the store and sent bricks and glass flying into the streets. Walls had collapsed, firefighters were buried, and heavy fire and smoke was pouring from the rear of the two-story structure.

Four firefighters and a civilian gas department employee were dead. Another 12 firefighters were injured. Killed instantly in the street in front of the building were volunteer firefighter George Magness, 44, career firefighter Nathan Hall, 27, and volunteer firefighter Donald Melton, 24. Magness was also the chief of the 12-member volunteer fire department. Career firefighter Floyd "Nicky" Sharts, 31, was found dead beneath the rubble in the alley behind the building. Gas department employee Max Bowling, who had apparently gone to the scene to shut off the building's gas supply, was also found dead in the alley.

Believed caused by a backdraft in a void between the building's first and second floors, the explosion snapped surrounding trees in two, twisted street lamps, and destroyed a 1972 American LaFrance pumper. Some 50 people were on the sidewalk when the building exploded and 31 were injured. By sunset, the streets were filled with thousands of onlookers.

Mutual aid from Cleveland, Boiling Springs, Boiling Springs Rural, Grover, Kings Mountain, Oak Grove, Shanghai, Waco, Fallston, and Polkville brought over 230 firefighters to the scene. Tractors and front-end loaders were also employed to remove rubble so firefighters could battle the blaze.

Within hours, the entire block was lost. Geoffrey’s Men’s Clothing Store, J.E.’s Department Store, the Bible Book Store, Wonderland Toys, Butler’s Shoe Store, and Eleanor Shops were destroyed. Damages totaled $5 million.

Investigators, which included dozens of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, later determined that the fire had been intentionally set. The owner of the store was convicted on five counts of voluntary manslaughter and served 10 years of a 90-year jail term.

Five separate funerals were conducted on Sunday, May 19, and hundreds of the city's 17,000 residents filled a local church for a memorial service the next day. A memorial fountain at Shelby's Charles Road fire station bears the names of their fallen heroes.

Lem Lynch photos


National Spinning Company

Only one other time have four firefighters died at or as a result of a single incident. On September 7, 1982, an early-morning fire at a textile plant in Washington killed four members of the National Spinning Company fire brigade. The midnight shift had just started when a fire was discovered in the pull-skein winding department of the dye plant at 12:08 a.m.

Fueled by miles of synthetic yarn, the flames activated the sprinkler system which helped confine the blaze to a single room about the size of a football field. The plant's 150 employees were safely evacuated, though some employees stayed behind to battle the blaze.

Four members of the plant fire brigade were overcome by smoke and died: Maintenance Worker James Harris, 26, Packing Operator Greg Lamm, 22, Supervisor Asa Squires, 39, and Machine Loader Jesse Woolard, 25.

A fifth worker, Supervisor Terry Wollard, was also injured while fighting the fire. He was taken to Washington Memorial Hospital, and then to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville. The fire was extinguished by 4:30 p.m. by firefighters from Washington and two other departments.


The First LODD (in the 20th Century)

The earliest recorded line-of-duty death also occurred in Washington, when Salamander Fire Company member Edward Peed was killed on February 8, 1902. About 5:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, a fire was reported at the Atlantic Coast Line Rail Road freight warehouse on the waterfront.

Caused by a defective flue, the fire spread rapidly, first to the grain elevator building, then to the Hoyt Building, and on to a warehouse at the rear of the H. Susman Furniture Company. Several railroad cars were also engulfed, along with a number of sheds along the waterfront.

As the town's volunteer fire companies battled wind-fed flames and exploding powder kegs, telegrams were sent to Rocky Mount, Tarboro, and Greenville to send fire engines. Special trains were readied and were about to leave when the fire was reported under control at 8:30 p.m.

At 9:22 p.m., Nozzleman Peed was spraying a pile of burning rubbish when the western wall of the Hoyt Building collapsed. He was killed instantly. Peed, 46, had been a member of the colored Salamander Fire Company for more than 20 years. A monument was erected by the town's white citizens and placed at his gravesite.

In 2000, it was relocated to a memorial garden at the present Washington fire station.

See also the Addendum below.


Other Early LODDs

New Bern firefighter Johnnie Gaskill was kicked in the head by a fire horse and died on November 6, 1904. Two years later, Rocky Mount fireman and Hook and Ladder Company member Henry Mitchel suffered a heart attack on March 20, 1906 while attending a drill for an upcoming state fireman's tournament.

Winston firefighter Joseph Whitlow was killed when a wall collapsed at a fire at the old Farmer's Warehouse on Liberty and Trade streets on February 25, 1911. The large brick building was occupied by several firms, including the Hub Candy Company. Whitlow was in front of the confectioner when he was killed.

Charlotte Fire Chief J. Harvey Wallace and Captain W. B. Glenn were killed when dynamite exploded at a fire on July 1, 1914. They were fighting a barn fire on Cedar Street when six sticks of dynamite, stored in the nearby home of a contractor, exploded.

Winston-Salem firefighter Jonah Kiser was electrocuted at a fire scene on July 14, 1915. He touched an exposed wire during salvage and overhaul operations at Miller's Tailor Shop in the Paramount Theater Building. Two years later, Charlotte firefighter George Spittle died after the engine he was riding was struck by a streetcar on March 10, 1917.

See also the Addendum below.


Winston-Salem's Fire Chiefs

Four Winston-Salem fire chiefs have died in the line of duty. Chief Harry Nissen died on November 28, 1932, when his car collided with a Greyhound bus while he and his driver were responding to a call. Both were thrown from the vehicle and Chief Nissen died at City Hospital without regaining consciousness.

Chief William Hobson died of a heart attack on September 16, 1938, while on duty at Fire Station #2 on South Liberty Street. He had been chief for six years, and was the first Winston-Salem firefighter to die of a heart attack on duty.

Assistant Chief John Goforth collapsed and died of a heart attack on October 29, 1956. He was at an apartment fire and had ordered a firefighter inside to cut a hole. When the firefighter returned, he found his collapsed commander. Chief Goforth died on the way to the hospital.

Chief Arnold Bullard died of a heart attack on July 6, 1980 after collapsing at the city's Public Safety Training Center. CPR was initiated within minutes, but was ultimately unsuccessful. He had been chief for two years. Central Fire Station on North Marshall Street was later renamed the Arnold B. Bullard Fire Station.


Father and Son

North Carolina Division of Forest Resources pilot Marshall Newman died after a midair collision near Kinston on November 19, 1973. He was their chief pilot and had taken mechanic Larry Moody into the air in their single-engine Beechcraft T-34B to make a visual inspection of another T-34B. The second plane had reported trouble with its nose wheel while returning from a forest fire in Columbus County. When the planes collided, the collision severed Newman's plane's vertical stabilizer and rudder. They crashed in a wooded area north of the runway at Stallings Field. Both Newman and Moody were killed. The second aircraft manually deployed its nose gear and landed without a problem.

Twenty-seven years later, Marshall Newman's son also died in an aircraft accident involving the Forest Service. On September 7, 2000, pilot Tim Newman and crew chief Mike Fossett were killed when their Huey UH-1H helicopter crashed near the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Waynesville in Haywood County. They were traveling to a public education event when they entered Balsam Gap and encountered heavy fog. They were five minutes from their landing site when Newman radioed that he would look for a place to land until the fog lifted. Ten minutes later, the county 911 operator began receiving calls of a low-flying helicopter and a possible crash. The wreckage, found in a ravine less than a mile from the Waynesville Overlook on the Parkway, was not located until the next day due to thick fog and heavy foliage.

Tim Newman died at age 40, and his father Marshall Newman died at age 39.


Other Aircraft Accidents

North Carolina Division of Forest Resources pilot Charles Colton died on March 27, 1979, when his single-engine Cessna L19 crashed about two miles west of Fair Bluff in Columbus County during low-altitude flying.

Forestry pilot Charles Cline died on July 11, 1964, the day after his single-engine Snow S2C air tanker crashed near Dover in Craven County while demonstrating fire bombing techniques. He died at Lenoir Memorial Hospital in Kinston.

Forestry pilot Gerald Sundstrom died on May 11, 1996, when his single-engine Mielec M18A air tanker crashed two minutes after taking off from Stallings Field in Kinston. He was headed to a fire at Camp Lejeune when he crashed about one mile south of the airport near Dobbs Farm Road.

Forestry pilot Merton Jackson died on May 15, 1981, when his single-engine spotters plane crashed near the edge of a 30-acre forest fire in Onslow County. He was flown by helicopter to Onslow Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company Chief Forester John Earle and his pilot Albert Mann died on April 26, 1961, when their single-engine aircraft crashed in Gum Neck in Tyrrell County. Earle was helping direct crews fighting a 7,000-acre forest fire. Earle died instantly and Mann died three hours later, while waiting for a helicopter to transport him to a Norfolk hospital.


Medical Complications

On November 14, 1952, Raleigh Fire Department Driver Vernon Smith was injured when his 1926 American LaFrance reserve pumper overturned on Lewis Farm Road while returning from a call. Four other members of Engine 6 were also hurt, but each recovered. Smith underwent 29 operations before his death at Rex Hospital on March 10, 1956. The cause of death was listed as uremia, a condition resulting from kidney disease.

On April 18, 2003, Charlotte Fire Department Engineer Mark Franklin injured his right knee while pulling hose from his engine at an apartment fire. Despite five months of subsequent medical care, his condition worsened. On October 17, 2003, Franklin underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. On November 30, 2003, six weeks after the surgery, he suffered a fatal massive pulmonary embolus from a deep-vein thrombus in his right leg.


Fire Alarm Systems

Three fatalities have involved personnel working with electric-telegraph fire alarm systems, which utilized low-voltage electrical wires typically strung from telephone and other poles.

W. Graham Cathey (Charlotte) died on February 8, 1928. He was a member of the alarm system line crew and atop a telephone pole when it snapped. He rode the pole down and it landed on top of him.

Oscar Hayworth (High Point) died on July 29, 1936. He was Superintendent of the Electrical System and was atop a pole when he was electrocuted. His thirty-foot fall was listed as a contributing cause of death.

William Capps (Fayetteville) died on July 18, 1956. He was electrocuted when he came into contact with a high-voltage power line while installing a new alarm line in a residential area.


Other Unusual Circumstances

Luther Horne (Fayetteville) died on December 21, 1929, killed by a collapse at the ancestral home of James McNeill, the Fayetteville Fire Chief who reorganized the department in 1883.

Edgar Elliott (New Bern) died on June 10, 1931, when he fell into the Neuse River and drowned while battling a riverfront fire.

Pruitt Black (Charlotte) died on April 1, 1934, when he tripped on his bunker pants and fell down the pole hole.

James Rawls (Rockingham) died on July 24, 1952, when he advanced a line across a metal fence that had come into contact with an electric power line.

McDaniel Narron (Antioch) died on August 3, 1976, when he suffered a heart attack while operating a pump panel at a fire at his own residence.

Gary Fletcher (Durham) died on February 14, 1978, eight days after catching a hydrant and being pulled to the pavement when the hose ripped from its coupling.

Roy Bailey (West End) died on February 19, 1989, when he was shot and killed while directing traffic.

Richard Dorsey (Bahama) died on September 6, 1996, when a falling tree struck the passenger compartment of his brush truck during the height of Hurricane Fran.


Statistics - 1902 to 2006

Compiled May 14, 2006  

By county, 64 of North Carolina's 100 counties have lost firefighters in the line of duty. Forsyth and Mecklenburg counties have had the greatest number with 12 each, followed by Cumberland (10), Wake (7), Beaufort (6), Craven (6), Guilford (6), Sampson (6), Cleveland (5), and New Hanover (5) counties.

By agency, 112 fire departments and fire protection agencies have lost firefighters in the line of duty. The North Carolina Department of Forest Resources has had the greatest number with 18, followed by the Charlotte Fire Department (11) and the Winston-Salem Fire Department (8). Seven agencies have lost four or more members, and twenty-three agencies have lost two or more members.

By status, where known, career firefighter fatalities (57%) outnumber volunteer firefighter fatalities (43%).

By age, where known, the youngest firefighter died at 18 and the oldest firefighter died at 68. By age and status, where known, the average age of career firefighter fatalities is 42. The average age of volunteer firefighter fatalities is 43.

By cause, where known, the biggest killer of North Carolina's firefighters is stress and overexertion (36%), followed by road-vehicle accidents (20%), burns or asphyxiation (17%), struck by vehicles or objects (7%), collapses (5%), and aircraft accidents (5%).

By age and cause, where known, the most common cause of deaths for ages 35 and under is burns and asphyxiation (33%) and road-vehicle accidents (24%). For ages over 35, the most common cause of death is overwhelmingly stress and overexertion (57%) with road-vehicle accidents (14%) a distant second. By age 55, stress and overexertion account for 72% of fatalities.

By day, the deadliest day of the year is September 7, with six fatalities on that day. Four fatalities have occurred on both May 25 and November 6, and three fatalities have occurred on each of the days January 1, February 8, February 13, July 14, November 19, and November 30.

By year, the deadliest single year was 2003, with eight duty deaths. The years 1973, 1982, and 1989 each recorded seven deaths; the years 1976, 1977, 1979, and 2000 each recorded six deaths.

By decade, the deadliest decades were the 1970s, with 39 duty deaths between 1970 and 1979. The 1980s recorded 38 fatalities, while the 2000s have already passed 30 fatalities.


Addendum - November 2013

Even Earlier Fatalities

Earlier than the death of Washington fireman Edward Peed in 1902 was a train derailment outside Statesville that killed three Asheville firefighters on August 27, 1891. Charles Barnett**, Perry Barnett, and Samuel Gorman died when their train plunged from an iron trestle over Third Creek. Three other Asheville Fire Department members were injured.

**For years, Legeros had incorrectly cited W. E. Winslow as one of the three firefighters who were killed. The correct person is Charles Barnett, brother of Perry. 

The six firefighters were returning early from the state fireman's tournament in Durham. The final death toll reached twenty-five, with many others injured. The bodies of deceased firefighters were embalmed the next day by morticians from Charlotte and Durham, and were returned to Asheville on a train on August 29. The accident at Bostian's Bridge is the third deadliest rail accident in the state's history. Read blog post.

Early Fatalities

Brevard Fire Department member James P. "Jim" Aiken died on August 25, 1909, when a presumably hand-drawn chemical engine exploded at a house fire. He was behind the apparatus, unwinding the hose, when the end of the engine's cylinder blew off. It was believed that the tank became pressurized or over-pressurized as the engine was rolled down hill to the fire. Read blog post.

Another Aircraft Accident / Four More Firefighters Killed

Four members of the North Carolina Air National Guard 145 Airlift Wing were killed on July 1, 2012, when their Air Force C-130 crashed in South Dakota while operating at the White Draw Fire near the small town of Edgemont. The plane was dumping retardant at the time of the crash.

The deceased airmen were Lt. Col. Paul K. Mikeal of Mooresville, Master Sgt. Robert "Robbie" S. Cannon of Charlotte, Major Joseph M. McCormick of Belmont, and Captain Major Select Ryan S. David of Boone. Two crew members survived with injuries.

Other Unusual Circumstances

Morehead City firefighter Andrew J. Bell died on May 1, 1951, while driving the town's new fire truck on a "test run" near the neighboring community of Newport. The FWD pumper left the highway and crashed. Bell was killed instantly.


Data Sources

The primary source for the information in this article is the North Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation Database^. Other databases used include the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation^, the US Fire Administration Firefighter Fatality Database^ (broken), and the NIOSH Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program^. The LODD sections of Firehouse^ (broken) and FireNews^  (broken) were also utilized.

Additional research was conducted using America's Newspapers via NewsBank via NC LIVE^ to locate both news articles and obituaries. Access requires a password available from many local libraries and colleges. General Internet research was conducted using Google^ .

Death certificates and death certificate indexes were viewed on microfilm at Olivia Raney Local History Library^ in Raleigh. Death dates were also researched using the Social Security Death Index^ .

The history sections of several fire department yearbooks were utilized, notably from Asheville, Charlotte, and Winston-Salem (the two towns and their fire departments merged in 1913). The history sections of several official and unofficial fire department web sites were also consulted, such as this list of Charlotte firefighter fatalities^ (broken) .

Copies of News & Observer and Raleigh Times articles about the Shelby and National Spinning Company fires were also viewed on microfilm at Olivia Raney library^. The Office of the State Fire Marshall also published an excellent article on the Great Shelby Fire in their Fall 2005 Fire & Rescue Journal ^ (broken).

Information about first fatality Edward Peed was drawn from microfilm newspaper articles, Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS^ (broken), and Early Black Firefighters of North Carolina^. Researchers should also consult Sanborn Maps via NC LIVE^ for a waterfront map and fire department details from 1901. The town had five (!) fire companies at that time.

For aircraft accident information, the NTSB Aviation Accident Database^ (broken) was utilized. 


Data Corrections

The author also welcomes comments, corrections, or additions to any information contained in this article. Mail Mike with your information.

Related Links


A version of this article was published on^  (broken) on April 25, 2006.



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