North Carolina State Firefighters' Association

History / Timeline

Last updated August 19, 2019


  • Early History - 1887 to 1937
  • Later History - Through 1953
  • Milestones

Early History - 1887 to 1837

As presented in the souvenir program for the 1937 convention in Greensboro, held August 9, 10, 11, 12, with some formatting changes and annotations [noted in brackets]:

From colonial times until the eventful year of 1887 very little progress was made in the State of North Carolina toward the prevention and fighting of fires. In that year a small group of citizens from various towns in the Old North State met in Greensboro, and while standing on the sidewalk in front of the old Union Hotel in Greensboro decided to organize what is now known as the North Carolina State Firemen's Association.

[ Mr. George McNeill, speaking at the 1927 convention:  One afternoon in the late summer of 1888 three young fire chiefs were sitting in front of the old Benbow Hotel in this city. Your venerable citizen, Mr. J. Harper Elam, and Charles D. Benbow, Sr., were two of those men, and my father was the other. They had just read an account of an organization of State Firemen in the State of New Jersey, and those three men suggested the idea of a similar organization for North Carolina. A few weeks later a meeting of the fire chiefs was held in this city and the organization perfected, Mr. Charles D. Benbow being elected as the first President. Ě[1] ]

History gives us the names of the following individuals as being among that group: C. D. Benbow, J. G. Fowler, H. J. Elam, A. T. Boyd, C. F. Thomas, J. R. Donnell, Charles Whittington, and S. D. Wilson, of Greensboro; Jas. D. McNeill, of Fayetteville; J. T. Thacker, W. F. Keith, S. A. Sink, C. D. Snipes, F. H. Vogler, F. G. Meinung, of Winston-Salem; E. B. Engelhard, T. W. Blake, F. H. Lumsden, Frank Brannan, of Raleigh; J. B. Swinson, of Charlotte; and H. E. Heartt, of Durham, and others.

The result of this discussion led to a request to the state legislature for a charter, which was later granted, and a determination to hold the first annual convention of the Association in 1888. Accordingly, on the 26th day of September, 1888, the first annual convention was called to order at Greensboro in old Bogart Hall. 

[1] NCSFA 1927 proceedings, p11.

Later History - 1887 to 1953

As presented in the souvenir program for the 1953 convention in Greensboro, with some formatting changes and annotations [noted in brackets]:

In the early years of the organization there were only about two hundred firemen in the State, the larger cities of today being small villages, with nothing but volunteer organizations. During that time hand reels and hand pumps were the only devices available for the protection of life and property from the devastating force of fire.

Soon after the organization of the State Firemen's Association, improvements began to be made and the organization grew in number. About this time the first horse-drawn hose and chemical wagons came into general use, and shortly after that the old familiar steamers were brought to the State.

During the first meeting of the organization held in Raleigh in connection with obtaining the charter, ways and means were discussed to create more interest in fire fighting among the firemen of the State, who were, of course, all volunteers. The result of this meeting was a decision to hold a tournament in connection with the first convention. It was decided to hold competitive events in reel races, horse-drawn hose wagons and for quick steam from the steamers. The first of these contests was accordingly held in Greensboro in 1888 on what is now known as South Elm Street, at that time an unpaved and badly rutted street. This feature proved so popular that even today it is the principal feature of the annual convention.

These contests have been held at every convention since that time except during the World War, at which time so many members had been drafted for the service that the various departments were badly crippled in man power. However, in 1919 at Asheville it was decided to restore the contests and at Fayetteville in 1920 they were again resumed.

[ In 1920, the motor apparatus contests were added, as a replacement for the horse-drawn apparatus races. In 1926, the Association received a new American LaFrance motor hose/chemical truck, donated by the regional factor representative. It was obtained for use in the annual races, and to reduce the burden on participating departments from bringing their own apparatus. ]

In 1907 a group of volunteer firemen went before the General Assembly and secured the passage of an act whereby firemen and their families could be given some protection in cases of disability or death while fighting fires. This was done by a tax on foreign insurance companies in the amount of one-half of one percent of the premiums paid by residents of North Carolina. This money is distributed annually to the various fire departments by the Insurance Commissioner.

In 1921, realizing that firemen should have even more protection to compensate them for their hazardous occupation, the North Carolina State Firemen's Insurance Fund was organized. This branch of our organization provides insurance for firemen and is supported through an assessment plan. It has done much toward helping to keep widows and orphans from becoming dependent upon charity.

In 1912 Honorable James R. Young, the first Insurance Commissioner of the State of North Carolina, devised a plan to reduce fire losses by securing a man with knowledge and training to go about the State and train the firemen in the various departments. After a statewide survey for a man capable of undertaking such a task, he found the man in Raleigh, his own home town. Subsequent achievements of this man has proven that no better choice could have been made. Our own Sherwood Brockwell was the man chosen and in a short while he became well known throughout the State and today is famous throughout the entire United States, being universally recognized as the man who has don '! more for the advancement of efficient fire fighting methods and the training of firemen than any other man.

As the outgrowth of his work, Mr. Brockwell conceived the idea of a regular annual training school for firemen and in 1930 the North Carolina Firemen's Training School was organized. This was the first of its kind to be put into practice among volunteer fire men throughout the entire country.

The State Association has done much to encourage the use of modern equipment throughout the State, and as early as 1910 the first steps were taken to discard horses for motor-drawn apparatus, and in 1913 began the replacement of the steamer with motor-driven pumps.

By the year 1929[,] the North Carolina State Firemen's Association had grown so large that it was necessary to employ an all-time secretary. In that year[,] the services of John L. Miller, of Concord, were secured and through the affectionate regard in which he is held by every fireman in the State of North Carolina he has done much toward the present high development of the Association and the promotion of harmony and prosperity among its membership. Today this membership will exceed four thousand firemen.

As a result of these constructive activities by this organization, many benefits have accrued to the State of North Carolina; in many respects more than any other State in the Union enjoys as the result of their state firemen 's organizations. Fire losses are lower in the Old North State, and this factor alone has been an inducement to many manufacturers to locate within our boundary. It is the hope of the present membership of the Association that the generation who will serve our people fifty years from today can say of us as we today say to those members who have worked so faithfully and so successfully during the past fifty years, "Well done, good and faithful servants of the Old North State! " 


1888 to 1949

  • 1888 - Meeting held in Greensboro, for purpose of organizing state firemen's association.
  • 1889 - First annual convention held in Raleigh.
  • 1889 - Association chartered and incorporated.
  • 1891 - North Carolina Firemen's Relief Fund enacted by General Assembly. 
  • 1895 - Department of Insurance created. Purpose includes training the state's firemen.
  • 1910 - Formation started of a firemen-owned insurance company, separate from NCSFA. The initiative is ultimately unsuccessful.
  • 1914 - First State Fire Marshal appointed, Sherwood Brockwell. Role includes creating a training program for the firemen of the state.
  • 1917 - Tournament cancelled due to war conditions. The tournament is also called for 1918 and 1919.
  • 1920 - Motor contest added to annual tournament.
  • 1922 - Firemen's Fraternal Insurance Fund of North Carolina is created.
  • 1929 - First fire college and drill school conducted in Asheville.
  • 1932 - North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs formed. They conduct annual meetings that are co-located with the NCSFA conference, and are held on the day(s) before.
  • 1937 - North Carolina Volunteer Fire Department established by legislative act.
  • 1943 - Convention cancelled due to war conditions. The annual event is also cancelled for 1945 and 1946.
  • 1944 - NCSFA ladies auxiliary organized.
  • 1944 - Fire Chief's association meets separately from NCSFA, possibly due to limited venue availability due to war years. They resume co-locating at the next NCSFA conference in 1947.

1950 to 1989

  • 1954 - NCSFA Secretary position made/re-made as full-time position.
  • 1955 - NCSFA business office moves to Farmville, with appointment of Curtis H. Flangan as Secretary.
  • 1957 - First Firemen of Year award at annual conference, originally sponsored by North Carolina Association of Mutual Insurance Agents.
  • 1957 - Firemen's Pension Fund created. There are some legislative hiccups, however. The bill doesn't finally pass/take effect until 1961.
  • 1959 - Fire Chief's association meets separately from NCSFA, due to expanding their annual meeting from one to two days. They resume co-locating with the NCSFA at the 1960 conference.
  • 1960 - Language changed for annual meeting, from convention to conference.
  • 1961 - NCSFA adopts/re-adopts Hose & Nozzle magazine as official publication. However, the following year, complementary copies to all members are discontinued, due to cost. One copy instead sent to each member department and chief.
  • 1965 - House bill passed that relieves member departments from sending delegates to annual NCSFA meeting, in order to receive monies from local relief fund.
  • 1966 - Language changed, annual meeting to be called conference instead of convention.
  • 1967 - College loan fund established for NCSFA members.
  • 1973 - NCSFA and NCAFC begin organized new North Carolina Council of Fire Service Organizations. The new organization is short-lived [correct?].
  • 1973 - First college scholarship established. 
  • 1974 - NC Zoo opens, with a donated fire truck, with funding assistance from NCSFA.
  • 1976 - NCSFA assumes financial responsibility to educate three children of LODD Billy Fullbright. Believe this is the only time that the Association takes such an action.
  • 1977 - Second college scholarship established, in memory of NCSFA Chaplain Horace Moore.
  • 1977 - NCSFA donates $50,000 in donations from members to UNC burn center, and fulfilling pledge made some years prior.
  • 1979 - Joint committee of NCSFA and Fire Chief's Association now selecting for annual conference location, instead of NCSFA alone.
  • 1980 - NCSFA determined to be tax-exempt as 501(c)5 organization.
  • 1981 - First year for conference to start at the end of the week, to better accompany volunteer members, who comprise 93 percent of the state's firefighters. Also, the schedule is adjusted to reduce duplication of activities and combine some other functions.
  • 1982 - College scholarship fund expanded from two to twelve recipients. Later expands to more recipients.
  • 1985 - Election rules changed for President, First Vice President, and Second Vice President, so they ôre filled, one each, from the three membership districts, which were designated and adapted in the 1982 conference. These offices shall be rotated each year, so each of the three districts will be represented at all times.
  • 1988 - Proposal made that Treasurer be appointed, instead of elected. [ Did it pass? ]

1990 to 2020

  • 1991 - Paul Miller hired as new Executive Secretary.
  • 2001 - Conference name changed to South Atlantic Fire Expo due to the Firemen ôs Association and the Chief ôs Association collaborating with four other organizations to create a larger conference attracting other states to attend.
  • 2001 - NCSFA works with NCDOI to donate four passenger vans to private foundation in New York, that helps FDNY with fallen firefighter family support.
  • 2007 [?] - Business office moved to Raleigh. The relocation had been proposed in earlier years, and as early as 1970.
  • 2008 - South Atlantic FIRE RESCUE Expo brand is created, as a name for the annual conference.
  • 2016 - NCSFA changes name to The North Carolina State Firefighters Association. The change had been proposed a number of times in the past, and as early as the 1960s.
  • 2017 - Business office building significantly damaged by the largest fire in Raleigh in over 100 years. Relocates to temporary quarters at 3101 Industrial Drive until damage to the Quorum Center can be repaired.
  • 2019 - Business office returns to Quorum Center.
  • 2020 - Conference cancelled due to coronavirus conditions. First cancellation since the 1940s.



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