New Hanover Fire History - Research Notes

South Wilmington VFD / North Wilmington VFD

Last updated December 12, 2019

Disclaimer: This document consists of research notes, with incomplete historical information collected from varied sources. This narrative is not necessarily comprehensive, and likely omits valuable additional and contextual information, due to its unavailability.


See related documents: rosters, deeds, minutes, etc.

Change Log

Dec 12, 2019 - Added picture of Maffitt Village fire truck.

Sep 4 - Changed page format, added contents and navigation links. Added deeds information, throughout. Added historical images at bottom. Added aerial photos showing Titanium Road location. Added current photos of 421 station.

Sep 2 - Added sundry details from the 1970s and 1980s, along with minutes of the 1993 county decision to end the contract. Also added disclaimer at top of page. Also added a map from 1974.
Aug 26 - Did a proofreading pass. Made edits to grammar, spelling. Adding small graphic of NWVFD building sketch, from county real estate records.



Milestone Dates

South Wilmington

  • Organized 1954. First station on Vance Street.
  • 1954, Jun 14 - County officials told department has formed. [BoC]
  • 1954, Jun 23 - Department signs contract with county. [BoC, 2/21/55]
  • 1955, Jan 1 - Department starts operation. [BoC, 2/21/55]
  • 1955, Jan 31 - Department inspected by county, meets requirements to receive county appropriations. [BoC, 2/21/55]
  • 1955, Jun 13 - BoC receives budget estimates. Department listed as having one truck. [BoC]
  • Chartered 1956. [NCSOS].
  • Relocates to 102 Marion Drive.
  • 1964, Dec 27 - Annexation takes heart of district, including station location.
  • 1970, Jun 3 - Deed of sale to department for fire station site on Titanium Road, parcel of 0.46 acres from Flossie Bryan and Maggie Bryan, for $1.00, and for use as long as the department is operational or the site is used as a fire station. [NHR RD]
  • 1971, Jan - Department described as having 18 volunteers, three trucks, siren at station on Marion Drive, and telephone answer service.
  • 1973, Nov 5 - BoC adopts [new?] boundaries for district. This is apparently the addition of a northern section. [BoC]
  • 1974, May 6 - BoC refines boundaries for district. Northern section is deleted, because North Carolina Fire Insurance Rating Bureau will not recognize the district, due to the location of fire station and excessive travel response distance to areas in north section.. [BoC]
  • 1974, May 6 - BoC states that a new company was being formed to serve the new north district, and should be completely manned and trained by July 1, 1974.  [BoC]
  • 1983, Jan 17 - BoC approves request by department to use hydrants on the 421 water system. [BoC]
  • 1984, Apr 9 - Annexation most of residential territory, south of Shipyard Boulevard. Station also now in city.
  • 1987, Jan 2 - Agreement signed between department and Cape Industries, for donation of fire station property. [NHC RD]
  • 1987, Jul 13 - Deed conveying fire station land to department. [NHC RD]
  • 1985, Oct 28 - County seeks to surplus former military vehicles, including approx 1959 GMC fire truck formerly SWVFD. [BoC]
  • 1987, Oct 5 - BoC approves release of $46,000 for construction of new fire station. [BoC]
  • 1987, Oct 19 - BoC approves waiving waste treatment impact fee for construction of new fire station. [BoC]
  • 1988, circa - Relocates to 3805 US 421. [OH]
  • Did SWVFD continue operating two stations, one north and one south? County resolution 4/26/90 says yes, oral histories (to date) say no. Still looking.

North Wilmington

  • 1990, Apr 26 - Name change filed. Renamed from South Wilmington VFD. Station at 3805 US 421. [NCSOS]
  • 1990, Jun 18 - BoC approves new district boundary, now exclusively north of city. Remaining territory in Titanium Road area assigned to Myrtle Grove VFD. [BoC]
  • 1991, Oct 14 - Deed conveys fire station site back to original property owners. [NHC RD]
  • 1993, Jan 4 - Fire commission recommends that BoC cancel contract, citing three reasons: lack of trained personnel and inadequate number of FFs; poor management notably in money management; recent fuel spill on site. Department subsequently disbands.
  • 1993, Aug 13 - Disillusion filed. [NCSOS]
  • 1997 - Station reopens as NHCFD.

Station Locations

  1. Vance Street, behind Vance Building/Boy's Club building at corner of Vance and Rutledge. See photo below.
  2. 102 Marion Drive. Opened 19?? See photo below. Foundation and driveway still standing.
  3. Titanium Road, midway between Carolina Beach and River roads. Opened mid-1970s [?]. See photo below.  
  4. 3805 US 421. Opened circa 1988. Now New Hanover fire station.

Other Notes

Telephone numbers for the department included RO 3-5338 (1960) and 791-7114 (1970, 1980).

Maffitt Village

During World War II, the population of Wilmington was exploding. By 1943, the number of residents had grown from 33,407 in 1939 to more than 120,000. Many had come to help with the country's defense and worked for the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company on the Cape Fear River. At its height, the shipyard employed 21,000.

To help with the resulting housing shortage, the Housing Authority of the City of Wilmington helped build and manage several federally-funded projects. One was started south of the city and near the shipyard as the Captain John N. Maffitt homes.

A combination of duplexes and multi-family units, they were completed in November 1943, with a total of 4,182 units. The community also included a twelve-bed infirmary, recreation areas, and a strip mall on Vance Street, with a grocer, barber, beauty shop, drug store, and post office. Two churches were nearby, and an 800-seat theater was built across Carolina Beach Road from the Village.

The village also had a volunteer fire department by July 1950, and perhaps months or years earlier. They had a fire truck, and a garage for storing the apparatus. The department is mentioned in Board of Commissioner minutes on July 31, 1950, as a letter was drafted to thank them and Carolina Beach FD for their help with a fire.

Maffitt Village fire truck in 1945. Courtesy North Carolina State Archives. N_53_16_2092. Photo by Albert Barden. From the Albert Barden Collection.

On September 4, 1951, the county accepted an offer from the city housing authority, to sell the fire truck and equipment to the county, with the provision that the county continuing operating and maintaining the apparatus. They also provided a garage for housing the truck, rent-free, and a dwelling, also rent-free, for the county fireman and  his family. The New Hanover County Fire Department was relocated from the airport to the village. The county department consisted of one man, Fire Chief Earl Burroughs, who had operated a loaned apparatus from Wilmington, since the one-person department was activated around April 1, 1950. The department was short-lived as the county terminated Burroughs on July 31, 1952. By that time, more community rural fire departments were being organized. 


South Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department

By June 14, 1954, the South Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department was reported to the Board of Commissioners as newly organized, and serving an area "from the city limits of Wilmington south to Barnard's Creek, west to Cape Fear River, east to Woodlawn Cemetery and [the] limits of the Winter Park Volunteer Fire Department." It operated from a garage on Vance Street, and is remembered as behind the Vance Building--used as a Boy's Club and located at the corner of Vance and Rutledge--and across the street from a commercial building that housed Taylor's grocery store and a Rexall drug store, and then Rook's Grocery.

Was the department a re-organized version of the Maffitt Village VFD? Could be.

Photo credit Stanley Outlaw

Oral histories in the Facebook group "Hey Wilmington... Do You Remember? Things around here..." provide additional early details. One of the first fire chiefs lived on Graham Street. Atop a large pole in the family's backyard was the siren. The chief's wife would answer the emergency calls and sound the alarm. The siren remained at that location until the department relocated for a third time to Titanium Road.

On August 9, 1956, the state corporations office recording the filing of Articles of Incorporation.

Annexation and Relocation

On December 27, 1964, the city annexed much of the department's service area, including original station on Vance Street. By that time, the department had relocated to nearby 102 Marion Road.

Photo credit Stanley Outlaw

On June 3, 1970, a deed was granted to the department from Flossie Viola Bryan and Maggie Anna Bryan, donating land for a fire station on State Road 1186, also/later named Titanium Road, for $1.00, for a 0.46 acre site, part of the Bryan's 57.5 acre tract, for exclusive use as a fire station site, and returning to the donors upon "dissolution, revocation, or termination" of the department's charter.

Around the mid-1970s, the department relocated to a new station to the donated site on the unpaved Titanium Road, midway between Carolina Beach Road and River Road. These Google Earth aerial photos from 1993 (left) and 2002 (middle and right) show the location:

Their new fire station, as depicted in this period photo, was a one-story, four-bay, metal building.

Photo credit Stanley Outlaw


In a fire protection report dated January 1971, created by the Wilmington - New Hanover Charter Commission, the department was described as having 18 volunteers, three trucks, a siren at the station, and a telephone answering service. They received a $5,308 annual appropriation from the county, equal to the other rural VFDs. Their rating was 9-A, like all other rural department in the county. Their apparatus:

1952 Dodge brush truck, 250/360
1953 Ford tanker, 150, 1050
1959 International pumper, 500/640

On July 7, 1972, the Board of Commissioners was informed that before any volunteer fireman was eligible for membership in the North Carolina Firemen's Pension Fund, or the qualified to receive the $5,000 line-of-duty death benefit, the department must be certified by the state insurance commissioner. The Board was told that an inspection of South Wilmington FD and three others was made by at least one Commissioner. Board approved certifying the departments as to their eligibility.

On November 5, 1973, the Board of Commissioners adopted seemingly new boundaries for the district, apparently including a new section north of the city, along Highway 521. On May 6, 1974, the Board refined the boundaries, removing the northern section, as the North Carolina Fire Insurance Rating Bureau would not recognize the district, due to "the location of the fire station and excessive travel response distance to areas in north section." However, the Board noted that a "new company was being formed to serve the new north district" and should be "completed manned and trained by July 1, 1974.

On March 5, 1974, the Board of Commissioners heard a request from the department, for an early paving of State Road 1186. The Assistant Chief was present and said the "condition of the road is very bad, almost impossible to get in and out." He added that it has always been a dirt road, and the land was given to the department for their firehouse. Approved sending a letter to the State Highway Commission along with the Board's "heartiest endorsement."

See a map (PDF) showing the fire district in March 1974

On March 5, 1979, the Board of Commissioners heard a request from the department, that the county enter into a contract with SWVFD, to "guarantee a certain amount of funding to enable them to get the loan from Farmers Home Administration" to purchase a new truck. The motion was carried unanimously.


Titanium Road and Unpaved Problems

On August 12, 1980, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that the unpaved Titanium Road was unlikely to be paved soon. The road has doubled the maintenance costs of the South Wilmington VFD, and slowed down the apparatus. They had one truck out of service that week. Several weeks earlier, a new $45,000 pumper couldn't be used at a fire, because road vibration had damaged a "pump motor linkage." The road, also known as State Road 1186, was thirteen on the list of dirt roads in the county needing paving. Department chairman Rupert Strickland estimated that the bumps, ruts, and pot holds added an estimated five minutes to the department's response time. "You can't get the trucks over 30 mph," he said, "it'll tear them to pieces." The truck out of service was awaiting repairs after "being bounced out of a pot hole and into a ditch." Strickland said the department's $400 monthly maintenance budget could probably be cut in half, if the road were paved. Though the road was atop the state's list for the county ten years ago, other projects had been moved ahead of it. Noted a state official, a formula was used to determine which roads were paved, instead of earlier methods that relied on patronage. "You could always tell where a highway commissioner lived, or his friends lived, by the conditions of the roads near their houses." The current administration, under Governor Jim Hunt, had "completely gotten away from that."

Star-News photo, August 12, 1980, scanned from photocopy

More Annexation and Another Relocation

In January 17, 1983, the Board of Commissioners approved a request of the department to use fire hydrants on the "421 water system."

On April 14, 1984, the Wilmington Morning Star reported on the latest annexation of the city. Most of the areas were in a "pie-shaped area" south of Shipyard Boulevard, between Carolina Beach Road and US.132. The annexation took most of South Wilmington VFD's residential territory. They still had industrial properties along US. 421, however, that the department would continue to cover. Their fire station on Titanium Road was also now in the city. About a third of the Winter Park VFD district was also annexed, and its fire station on Park Avenue was [now?] just inside the city limits.


On January 2, 1987, an agreement was signed between Cape Industries and South Wilmington VFD, with the former agreeing to deed a parcel of land to the department for purpose of building a fire station. The property must be returned to the donor, if construction doesn't start within three years, if the department ever ceases to exist, or the building ceases to be used as a fire station.

On March 10, 1987, the state recorded a North Carolina General Warranty Deed, between Grantor Cape Industries and Grantee South Wilmington VFD, for a parcel on Highway 421 of one acre.

On April 29, 1987, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that Cape Industries had donated land to South Wilmington VFD for a second fire station. The lot was located on Highway 421, next to Sneeden's Trading post, and near the industrial plant. The area was a "growing industrial corridor" that lead into the city, and a closer fire station would benefit those industries. Cape Industries had its own firefighting resources--including a truck, a pond, and staff--but the company still relied on the department's services. Part of the department's problems was responding to their northern territory, which required traveling through the city. Though the Wilmington FD was closer, they cannot respond because the area is outside the city. The response time for SWVFD to their northern district ranged from about 12 to 20 minutes. That should be "cut in half" when the new station was opened, said the department's Assistant Chief. The land was donated in response to a department request. "We came over here and asked for it." said Fire Chief Terry Blake. It was "an aggressively planned effort to secure a second location." The county has appropriated $40,000 in the 1986-87 budget for the new building. Before the monies are released, the VFD must present their building plan to the county fire commission, which will make a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners. The new station should be ready in about a year. The department's equipment and 28 members will be divided between the two stations.

On October 5, 1987, the Board of Commissioners approved the release of $46,000 for construction of the fire station. On October 19, they approved waiving waste treatment impact fees.

Note: Oral histories recall that once the Highway 421 station was opened, the department relocated entirely. No second station was operated, and the Titanium Road building was demolished soon after they moved.

The department's new station was located at the corner of Highway 421 and Sutton Lake Road, and addressed 3805 US 421. The site measured 53,995 square-feet, or 1.2 acres. Ownership was transferred from Cape Industries to South Wilmington VFD on March 1, 1987. It was later returned to Cape Industries from North Wilmington VFD on July 21, 1993. The one-story metal building eventually had three sections, and a total of 6,500 square-feet.

1990 to 1993

North Wilmington VFD - New Name, New Problems

On April 26, 1990, the state corporations office recorded the name change of South Wilmington Fire Department to North Wilmington Fire Department. The department was now operating on Highway 421, having moved circa 1988 from their Titanium Road location.

On Jun 18, 1990, the Board of Commissioners approved a new district boundary, with the department serving exclusively north of the city. The remaining territory along Titanium Road is assigned to Myrtle Grove VFD. Also, the resolution notes that the department had been operating two stations. Oral histories differ, and only recall one station operating. [Was the resolution citing a dual station plan that was never implemented?]

On October 14, 1991, a deed was signed by Grantor North Wilmington VFD, Inc., and Flossie Viola Bryan and Maggie Anna Bryan, grantees, transferring the former fire station site to the original donors, since "the property is no longer being used as a fire station".

On November 26, 1992, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that the Battleship North Carolina had joined Takeda Chemical Products USA and New Hanover County's trash-burning steam plant in contracting with the city instead of North Wilmington VFD for fire protection. The Battleship cited dwindling department membership as one reason, while Takeda said the department doesn't have the equipment and the training to fight fires at the plant. City Council approved the Battleship contract on November 10. The attraction is located inside the NWVFD district. Takeda has contracted with the city for several years and will pay the city $87,909 this year. The amount is based on the company's property value, and the amount the city spends on fire protection. The battleship pays the city per call, $400 per hour. Use of the fire boat is $400 per hour, as is use of a ladder truck. The city charges the same fees to the county trash-burning plant.

Also, noted the story, North Wilmington VFD was being investigated by the Sheriff's Department for allegations of mishandled money. The state was also investigating the department for illegal dumping behind the fire station. NWVFD had fewer than ten members, said said a sheriff's department official, when their investigation began October 27. Seven members had either quit or been voted out this year; four of those were voted out in the past year. Some former members said they quit because they were dissatisfied with the way the chief was handling county monies. To maintain state standards, the department must have 20 members, including 18 firefighters. They were last inspected by the state in May 1991 and met its standards. Though membership may have dropped below state standards, the department had three years to restore the levels after a state inspection. On Wednesday, a department captain said the membership has climbed back to nineteen, with 15 to 16 members "extremely active."

On November 26, 1992, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that the county fire commission wants to talk with North Wilmington VFD about an alleged dumping incident behind the fire station. The state Division of Environmental Management was investigating the department for illegally dumping petroleum sludge mixed with rainwater. A notice of violation will be sent to the department by certified mail, said a state official. The county Emergency Management (EM) director said Wednesday that the fire commission will talk with state officials and department officials about the incident. No action is planned until the fire commission meets again, though they will likely hold a meeting sooner than planned. Said the EM Director, he didn't know what the commission "can do about the dumping," but they will ask the department to provide a report on the incident.

On December 10, 1992, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that the Sheriff's Department was not planning to file charges against any member of North Wilmington VFD, including the chief, after investigating claims that "money was mishandled." They do not, however, plan to close the case. Their detectives also want to talk with anyone with more information. They're also investigating two break-ins over the past three weeks at the fire station.

Though their investigation found that some money was mishandled, there was no evidence that warranted criminal charges. They noted that some of the complaints they investigated were an "administrative matters" for the fire commission to handle. The sheriff's department investigated complains that the chief and another firefighter used county funds for personal gain. They found no crime was committed in three of four complaints against the chief and an unidentified firefighter. In one incident, however, evidence indicated embezzlement may have occurred. The Fire Chief was aware the problem, and tried to correct it. And because the chief is head of the organization, the sheriff's department decided it might be difficult to successfully prosecute the case.

The incident involved a firefighter who returned a scanner to Radio Shack, received a refund, but failed to return some of the refunded money to the fire department. On November 2, the chief gave the firefighter until November 15 to return the money or face legal action. After the deadline passed and negotiations were held, the firefighter was given more time. Officials noted that the firefighter still hasn't paid back the money. Other complaints involved the chief's purchase of a $150 helmet for personal use, without approval of the department's board of directors. And, later, county funds were used to install a $400 emergency light and siren on his personal vehicle.

No crime was committed, noted officials, though the issues may be for the fire commission to consider. And the equipment--helmet, lights, siren--will be returned to the fire department if the chief should leave. Investigators also looked into the February purchase of eight mobile radio-telephone sets, plus a base station, and the agreements/arrangements for payment. 

On December 17, 1992, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that cleaning up a petroleum dump site could cost North Wilmington VFD $16,645, with most of the money coming from fire district tax revenues. The department was issued a violation for contamination by the state after former members said they participated in dumping fuel.

In a report to the fire commission, Fire Chief Phil Spaulding provided information about what happened. Six to eight months ago, firefighters dug a hole behind the fire station, and dumped a mixture of water and petroleum, that had been used for fire training. Diesel fuel was set aflame in a 200-gallon barrel, and crews practiced putting it out. It was mixed with about 20 to 25 gallons of water, and a half-gallon of gasoline, used to start the fire. Tarpaulins were used to cover the barrel when it wasn't used, but rainwater got in the barrel over time. The "training barrel" had been behind the fire station since 1986, and other area fire departments had also used it. 

In a fire commission meeting Wednesday night, the fire chief provided the estimate from Specialized Marine of Wrightsville Beach to remove and dispose of the soil, replace with clean soil, drill a monitoring well, and conduct other tests. If the contaminated soil is classified as a haz-mat, however, removal, transportation, and treatment costs could climb as high as $75,000. The department has already spent $950 toward the clean-up, all from private funds. They've also cut $13,258 from their budget to cover the remaining costs, the fire chief noted to the fire commission. If the clean-up costs exceed that amount, The department will ask the fire commission to cover the difference. The cost estimates also don't include any fines, if levied by the state. The fine could be as high as $5,000 per violation. After the fire chief presented his report, the fire commission met in "secret session" with the county attorney for about 45 minutes. That action was criticized by the Castle Hayne fire chief, who called the action "politically  motivated."

Contract Cancellation

On January 5, 1993, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Monday night to end its contract with North Wilmington VFD, after charges of financial mismanagement and illegal dumping. Winter Park VFD and Wrightsboro VFD will respond to calls in the district, until "other arrangements can be made" said the chairman of the fire commission. He stated at the meeting that the fire commission determined that NWVFD membership dropped as low as 10 to 14 people. An inspection in October found only 14 members on the roster. That didn't meet the state requirement of 20 trained members. And though the department might be able to recruit more members, they might not be adequately trained.

The contract was terminated under a 90-day "no fault" provision, which does not require a reason. The fire commission also recommended that the district be renamed and funds allocated to NWVFD be turned over to the fire commission. Though the department's apparatus and equipment belong to NWVFD, they were bought with county funds collected in the fire tax district. The commission hopes the department will turn that property over to the county.  The department's lawyer, however, said that they "would not give up the equipment easily." Since the department is a non-profit corporation, the property must be transferred to another non-profit. The fire commission chairman said that they would like to work on short- and long-term plans to cover the district, perhaps hiring two firefighters to staff the station during the daytime, until a permanent solution is reached. 

From the January 1, 1993, Board of Commissioners meeting minutes:

Termination of Contract with the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department

Mr. Lou Mattes, Chairman of the New Hanover County Board of Fire Commissioners, reported on allegations that have surfaced at the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department. Through investigation and reported incidents that have occurred, the Board of Fire Commissioners is requesting termination of the contract with the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department under the 90-day no fault clause. This action is not easily recommended; however, due to the following items, the Fire Commissioners feel the contract must be cancelled:

A lack of trained personnel as well as an inadequate number of fire fighters. The state requires a minimum of 19 fire fighters plus 3 fire/ police members to be maintained at all times. During a recent investigation, there were as little as 10- 14 available members.

Poor Management of the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department. A number of personal radio- type telephones were purchased in the name of the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department. Through an agreement, these members were to reimburse the department; however, no funds have been paid back. At this time, there is a $ 10, 000 debt.

The recent fuel spill was due to a lack of control and poor management.

In order to ensure fire protection for this area, the following plan is recommended by the Board of Fire Commissioners:

Immediately call upon the Wrightsboro and Winter Park Volunteer Fire Departments to respond to fire calls. will provide adequate fire service to the area.

Hire two additional fire fighters to temporarily man the fire station during the day until permanent arrangements can be made. These persons will be paid from the unappropriated fund balance of the Fire service District.

In summary, these types of problems are not indicative of the fire service being provided by seven outstanding Volunteer Departments in New Hanover County. After review, the Fire commissioners recommend immediate termination of the contract with the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department with dissolution of this fire district and renaming of the district to " Countv Fire District 5". Also, the County Commissioners are requested to ask the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department to turn over all assets to the Board of Fire Commissioners in order to provide an orderly transition and continue to provide fire protection to this area.

Motion: Vice- Chairman Mathews MOVED, SECONDED by Commissioner Sisson to accept the recommendations of the Board of Fire Commissioners and terminate the contract with the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department. The floor was opened for discussion.

Attorney James Russell Sugg, Jr., representing the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department, reported that the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department has never received any written complaints about the services of the Fire Department until this afternoon. After review of the list of complaints, there is no indication that lives have been lost or property damaged due to poor performance by the Fire Department. The North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department has been in existence for 20 years and for the first time a list of complaints has been presented, of which many are already in the process of . being corrected. Cancellation of this contract will cost the taxpayers an additional 30, 000 due to payment for services not rendered. Also, the contract will expire June 30, 1993, which would be a more appropriate time to either cancel or renew the contract. At this point, there are many issues that need to be addressed, particularly with reference to the ownership of equipment.

Attorney Sugg requested the County Commissioners to allow the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department to respond to the allegations at the next meeting before taking action to terminate the contract.

Commissioner Sisson asked the Assistant County Attorney, Kemp Burpeau, if the recommendations presented by the Board of Fire Commissioners are a valid set of proposals that will provide an effective way to terminate the contract?

Assistant County Attorney Burpeau stated the proposals presented will provide a clean and clear way to terminate the contract under the no- fault provision. The only detriment will be the payment of pro- rata compensation for the 90- day period?

Commissioner Sisson inquired as to whether there is a guarantee that the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department will turn over the equipment to the County since it was purchased with County funds?

Assistant County Attorney Burpeau stated the fire equipment is owned by the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department; therefore, there is no guarantee the equipment will be returned to the County.

Commissioner Caster asked Chief Phil Spaulding if there is an adequate number of qualified personnel at the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department?

 Mr. Phil Spaulding, Chief of the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department, stated there is an adequate number of qualified personnel.

Chief Lou Mattes stated new members can be added with a period of 12 months allowed to receive 36 hours of training. When reviewing the roster of the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire
Department on October 4, 1992, less than 14 members were available.

Commissioner Caster inquired as to whether the accumulated debts for the radios have been paid and if not, who is responsible for the bill?

Chief Spaulding stated the debts are unpaid; however, only 5, 000 is due, not $ 10, 000 as previously stated. All members of the Fire Department agreed to pay for the radios with purchase of the equipment through the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department. This purchase was approved by the former Chairman of the Board of Fire Commissioners. After discussion with the lease company, the Fire Department is technically responsible for the radio debt, but the company feels that some arrangement can be worked out whereby the individuals owning the equipment will be sued.

Commissioner Sisson inquired as to whether the lease company has threatened to sue these individuals for a lack of payment?

Chief Spaulding stated the lease company has threatened to sue the Fire Department and has turned the debt over to a collection agency. At the present time, these members are working with the collection agency to repay the debt.

Attorney Sugg stated the Sheriff' s Department did investigate all allegations with a determination that no criminal elements were involved.

Commissioner Sisson responded that the Sheriff' s Department did point out substantial evidence of wrong doing but it could not be linked to criminal prosecution.

Chief Spaulding reported on taking over the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department approximately a year ago and stated at that time there were problems with management; however, he was promised that he would receive assistance. As of this date, he has not received the assistance needed to correct and work out these problems.

Chairman Greer called for a vote on the motion to accept the recommendations of the Board of Fire Commissioners and terminate the contract with the North Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department.


Voting Aye: Commissioner Caster
Commissioner Sisson
Vice- Chairman Mathews
Chairman Greer
Voting Nay: Commissioner Barone

Trying to Stay Afloat

On January 6, 1993, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that North Wilmington VFD was "trying to stay afloat" by gathering community support, getting private contracts to provide protection for local industries, and forming a separate fire district. But county officials were skeptical, and two local industries did not appear interested. On Monday, County Commissioners gave notice that they would end the county contract in 90 days. That would terminate the fire tax funds that support the department.

On Tuesday afternoon, about two dozen people met in the Flemington community, half firefighters and half residents. Though "the firefighters wanted to discuss the county's actions to terminate the contract, the Flemington residents seemed more interested in discussing how they were treated over a county-owned landfill that contaminated their drinking water." The contamination involved an incident that started years ago.

Fire Chief Phil Spaulding noted that he contacted Cape Industries and Arcadian Corporation, and is waiting to hear from them about the department providing protection for a fee. The companies later indicated that they're skeptical of the offer. County officials have also assured the companies that temporary fire protection steps will be adequate until permanent solutions are found. For now, Winter Park VFD and Wrightsboro VFD will respond to calls in the district.

On January 30, 1993, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that the county obtained a temporary restraining order Friday to stop North Wilmington VFD and its chief, Phil Spaulding, from disposing of its equipment, most of which was bought by with county funds. Having lost financial support from the county, the department has threatened to give away its debt-free equipment, and turn over financed equipment to FDs outside the county, if they would make the payments. The restraining order prevents the department and the chief from disposing of the equipment until a hearing can be held. It's scheduled for February 8 at 10:00 a.m., when a judge will determine if the freeze should continue until the case can be heard in court.

The order says that tax funds given to the department were for equipment to provide fire protection in the county. The county contends that it is part-owner of the equipment, which is held in trust by the department. And if the equipment were disposed of, the county would "suffer immediate damage and irreparable harm and injury," the order says. The department's lawyer said that their contract with the county did not earmark funds for equipment, or state that ownership reverts to the county if the department ceased to exist. The lawyer said the county acted prematurely, because the fire chief presented a proposal to the fire commission on Wednesday in attempts to reach a compromise. County officials say they're trying to protect a major investment in fire protection. The department has assets of $278,000, according to latest financial records. The fire commission appointed a task force this week to look into alternates for fire protection in the district.

On February 20, 1993, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that the state is satisfied with the clean-up that's underway at North Wilmington VFD. It was fined last month for $2,322 for violating state regulations. The deadline has passed for the department to respond to the violation, however. They had 30 days to pay the fine, appeal it, or ask for a reduction. They were fined for dumping petroleum residue mixed with rainwater behind the fire station in April. Soil from the site was removed, along with from a tank used for training. The department has also agreed to test for groundwater contamination.

On February 26, 1993, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that the apparatus and equipment of North Wilmington VFD may not be "worth a fight," said a county official. The county EM Director said Wednesday that the fire commission is investigating reports that NWVFD equipment was not properly maintained and may not meet state standards. They're also trying to determine if the department used its apparatus as collateral for obtaining a loan on expanding its fire station. Taking over their trucks and equipment and bringing them up to standards could "exceed the value of the equipment," the director said. The county got a restraining order last month, to prevent the department from disposing of the equipment. The court ruled, however, that the county had no control over the department's equipment.

The fire chief met with the fire commission Wednesday night, to "try to salvage the department," but commission members "rejected his efforts." The fire commission wants to know if a better financial move for the county is "backing away from efforts to keep the equipment in the county's hands and starting over." The director said that the cost to bring two trucks up to standards--roughly $20,000 to $30,000 each--could exceed their value. That work could take four to six months. The department's lawyer says that the equipment passed inspection and was certified by the state each time they conducted an inspection. Though some "minor equipment" was used to secure a loan to expand the station, the lawyer added "his client denies the trucks were ever used as collateral." The director added that some of the VFD's equipment is military surplus and may not meet safety requirements.

The fire commission is evaluating all of the department's trucks, to eliminate those that are not cost-effective. The evaluation is the first part of a plan to ensure that all "'first responder' or primary fire trucks" meet state standards. On a related note, they reported, a task force appointed by the fire commission has developed several options for protecting the North Wilmington fire district. A public meeting to discuss them is tentatively scheduled for March 22. 

On March 2, 1993, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that the North Wilmington VFD board of directors voted Sunday night to dissolve the department. The recommendation will be subsequently presented for approval by the department's members, who "for the most part" are also board members, said the department's lawyer. Two-thirds of the membership must approve the recommendation. Before the corporation can dissolve, it must show the Secretary of State's office that all debts have been paid. They owe money on two of their five fire trucks, and $10,000 to $11,000 on their fire station. For disposing of their other property, such as equipment, they have a list of requests received from other departments. Most are outside New Hanover County. The county lost an attempt in court last month to get control of the equipment, most of which was bought with county-collected funds. The department has also paid a $2,322 fine from the state, for illegal dumping. They're also waiting to find out if the dumping contaminated groundwater, which would add to the debts they'll have pay off.

On March 20, 1993, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that volunteer fire departments in Brunswick, Duplin, and Pender counties were the new owners of apparatus and equipment from North Wilmington VFD. Yaupon Beach VFD (Brunswick) received a pumper-tanker, after agreeing to assuming the loan. Shiloh VFD (Pender) received a pumper, also agreeing to assume the debt. Atkinson VFD received a brush truck at no cost. Magnolia VFD (Duplin) and Long Creek VFD (Pender) received equipment, including pagers and firefighting gear. Leland VFD (Brunswick) received the most equipment, including a mini-pumper and an equipment truck. The items were accepted on the condition that Leland accept North Wilmington firefighters as volunteers for at least a year.

All of the receiving departments extended membership offers to North Wilmington's volunteers. The department also owed money on its building and would either pay off the loan or negotiate a settlement with Cape Industries, which owns the land and donated the property on the condition that it revert to them if the department ceased to exist. The county would receive any money left in the department's bank accounts, after their 90-day notice of contract termination expired around April 4. The department's lawyer did not know how much money would be left.

On July 13, 1993, a warranty deed was signed between North Wilmington VFD, Inc., and Cape Industries, returned to the property to the donors, for the amount of $10.

On August 13, 1993, the state corporation's office recorded the filing of Articles of Dissolution.

Plans For New Fire Protection

On August 18, 1993, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that the county has contingency plans to provide fire protection to unincorporated areas if the volunteer fire departments refuse to answer calls. On Monday night, volunteer fire department representatives walked out on negotiations in a contract dispute with the county. But the departments said that they will answer fire calls until the county develops other plans.

The county and the departments are involved a dispute because County Commissioners want to include a provision in the contract that says equipment bought with taxpayer money would be returned to the fire district if a department dissolves. This was a response to the disillusion of North Wilmington VFD in April, and the county's attempt to stop the department from giving away equipment that was bought with county tax money.

Contracts are usually signed on July 1, the beginning of the county's fiscal year. The departments are working under a 60-day extension of last year's contract. County Commissioners may give another 60- or 90-day extension on September 7, to give officials more time to "put together other plans." The county could  contract with municipalities inside and outside the county, though there may be added costs for liability insurance for departments outside New Hanover County. The biggest problem, said the county EM Director, is not getting equipment or firefighters, but finding "temporary locations for fire stations." Such temporary sites under consideration are Fort Fisher Military Recreation Area, the county's EMS building on Carolina Beach Road, the county airport, the Highway Patrol station on Market Street, and a state crop research station at Castle Hayne. At least three trucks and seven firefighters, working in shifts, would be needed at each site. 

On December 4, 1994, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that county officials would soon consider hiring the county's first paid firefighters. The fire commission planned to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that the county form a fire department to cover the former North Wilmington VFD district on US 421. The new department would be a "combination" department, with both volunteers and paid personnel. The district hasn't had its own fire station is nearly two years, and has been covered by Wrightsboro VFD and Winter Park VFD since January 1993.

The county hired a consultant to evaluate fire protection needs along that industrial corridor. The district has 16 industries, 59 businesses, and 40 homes. The fire commission took the report and made recommendations, which the Board of Commissioners plan to review on January 12. The paid department would be phased in over five years, with staffing supplemented at night by volunteers. The fire commission didn't recommend an all-volunteer department, because the district doesn't have enough residents. Response times will be shorter, as it takes WPVFD and WVFD between 15 and 20 minutes to reach the district. The commission also cited the need for a county fire service administrator, to oversee the new department and work as liaison with the county's seven volunteer departments. Also needed is an inspector or code-enforcement officer. Cape Industries, which owns the old North Wilmington fire station, has said that the building is available for another fire department to use.

1997 to Present

Then What Happened?

In the summer of 1997, a new county fire station opened at the old North Wilmington VFD, operated by the new New Hanover County Fire Department. The station was staffed by a combination of career and volunteer members. Ten full-time positions were hired: Captain, three Lieutenants, and six Firefighters. Three trucks were purchased. They reported to a recently created Fire Services Administrator. Over the years and decades, NHCFD expanded, first hiring full-time personnel to staff the volunteer fire departments, then taking over the districts and operations of those remaining volunteer departments in 2009 (Odgen) and 2010 (Castle Hayne, Federal Point, Myrtle Grove, Wrightsboro).

Read more history.

Fire Station Today

New Hanover County Fire Department currently occupies the former North Wilmington fire station on Highway 421. The county expanded the building since 1997, adding additional bays and living quarters on the south end of the structure.

Mike Legeros photos, August 2018

Building sketch from county real estate records


More Memories

  • After the northern district was added, the travel routes from the southern district used one of two bridges. When units marked in route, the dispatcher would advise which bridge was "being held" for them.
  • At one time, the southern district cover from the Wilmington wastewater plant to about Sanders Road.
  • Engine 591, pictured on the dirt road in the 1980 news story, was a 1978 or 1979 Chevy/American LaFrance.
  • Engine 593 was bought from East Brunswick, NJ. It was a white mini/maxi pumper.


See site home page. Plus:

Wilmington Morning Star

  • 1980, Aug 12 - Unpaved road slows fire department
  • 1987, Apr 29 - New fire station will make job less alarming
  • 1992, Nov 26 - Fire department's low membership makes some seek city protection
  • 1992, Nov 26 - Fire panel wants report on sludge
  • 1992, Dec 10 - No charges planned for fire chief, members
  • 1992, Dec 17 - Dump site cleanup could cost department $16,645
  • 1992, Dec 18 - Firefighters' pit may be costly
  • 1993, Jan 2 - Fire department disbanding OK'd
  • 1993, Jan 5 - County votes to end contract
  • 1993, Jan 6 - Department trying to survive
  • 1993, Jan 30 - County blocks equipment sale - Order lasts until Feb. 8 hearing
  • 1993, Feb 20 - Fire department clean-up proceeds
  • 1993, Feb 26 - County says fire trucks may not be worth a fight
  • 1993, Mar 1- Fire department disbanding OK'd
  • 1993, Mar 20 - Former fire department gives away equipment
  • 1994, May 11 - Fire service plans could prove costly
  • 1994, Dec 4 - Board pushes fire unit for 421 corridor


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