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Then and Now #4: Triangle Fire Departments

Catawba, Gaston, Lincoln, and Mecklenburg Counties

Welcome to a feature where historian Mike Legeros presents early twentieth-century summaries of North Carolina fire departments as recorded by the Sanborn Map Company for their fire insurance maps. In addition to detailed information about streets, buildings, and water supplies, the cartographers also recorded fire protection information including personnel, apparatus, and alarm systems.

Electric-telegraph fire alarm systems were popular in many municipalities. Street boxes contained a spring-wounded mechanism that when triggered, tapped a series of electric signals sounding gongs in engine houses, strikers on public bells, or other warning devices. Each box was numbered and transmitted a specific series of taps. Firefighters identified the particular box location by the number of bells, or the number of punches on a ticker tape. By 1941, Gamewell-brand systems were installed in 44 cities and towns in North Carolina.


Benson's first pumper, a horse-drawn, gasoline-powered engine circa 1907

Benson, Johnston County
March 1918
Ten men, no horses. Fire station on Wall Street. Two hand-drawn hose reels. One hand-drawn pump, 300 GPM. 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Bell sounded in case of fire. Population 1,600.

Today
One fire station, eight pieces of fire apparatus, one career member, two part-time members, and 32 volunteer members protecting approximately 22 square miles. Population 3,232.


Burlington's new 1919 American LaFrance pumper. Courtesy Burlington Fire Department

Burlington, Alamance County
May 1918
Volunteer. 22 men. Two horses. Fire station at City Hall, 200 block Front Street. One hose wagon with 800 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. One hook and ladder wagon with hose. 2,600 feet of hose. Gamewell fire alarm system with one box installed, 32 planned. Alarm sounded by bell. Population 7,000.

Today
Five fire stations, nine pieces of fire apparatus, and 86 career members protecting 23.3 square miles. Population 46,315.


Chapel Hill firefighters in 1926. Courtesy Chapel Hill Fire Department

Chapel Hill, Orange County
December 1915
Volunteer, 20 men. Two stations. 500 block Columbia Street: One hand-drawn hose wagon. One hand-drawn hose reel. 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. 319 Henderson Street: Hook and ladder truck. Fire alarm by bell and factory whistle. Population 3,350.

Today
Five fire stations, nine pieces of fire apparatus, and 75 career members protecting 21.1 square miles. Population 51,485.

Clayton, Johnston County
February 1918
Volunteer, 20 members. Two hose houses and one ladder house. Hose house at corner of Main and O'Neil Streets: hand-drawn hose reel with 750 feet 2 1/2-inch hose and one Pyrene extinguisher. Hose house beside 434 Main Street: hand-drawn hose reel with 750 feet 2 1/2-inch hose and one Pyrene extinguisher. Ladder house at 467 Main Street: hook and ladder truck with 40 feet of extension ladders. Population 2,500.

Today
Two fire stations, six pieces of fire apparatus, six career members, and 40 part-time members protecting approximately 47 square miles. Population 10,245.


Durham hose wagon and steamer, circa 1910. Courtesy Durham Firefighters Association and North Carolina State Archives

Durham, Durham County
1913
Paid. Chief, assistant chief, and three companies. 16 men. Nine horses. Four stations. Station No. 1 at 106 Holloway Street: Chief, assistant chief, four men. Two horses. One two-horse combination chemical and hose wagon with 50-gallon chemical tank and 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Station No. 2 in 100 block Main Street: Captain and six paid men. Four horses. One two-horse combination hose and chemical truck with 40 gallon chemical tank and 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. One third-class American LaFrance steam fire engine. Station No. 3 at corner of Clinton and East Main Streets: Captain and four paid men. No horses. One 60 HP Webb combination hook and ladder, hose, and chemical automobile truck carrying one 40 gallon chemical tank, 200 feet chemical hose, two three-gallon chemical hand extinguishers, and 1000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. One second-class Metropolitan steam fire engine drawn by automobile truck. 1,500 feet 2 1/2-inch hose in reserve. Station No. 4 beside 108 Holloway Street: Four men. Two horses. One hook and ladder truck with 250 feet of ladders. Gamewell fire alarm system with 13 boxes. Gong for alarm system located at Station No. 1. Population 28,000.

Today
14 fire stations, 27 pieces of fire apparatus, and 286 career members protecting 104 square miles. Population 201,660.


Graham Fire Department in 1930. Courtesy Graham Fire Department

Graham, Alamance County
May 1910
Volunteer, 31 men. Horses owned by private parties. Fire station at 506 South Main Street. One two-horse hose wagon. One one-horse hose wagon. Two hand hose reels. 1,500 feet 2 1/2-inch hose, first class. Alarm by whistle at water works station. Population 3,000.

Today
One fire station, five pieces of fire apparatus, nine career members, and 26 volunteer members protecting approximately 13 square miles. Population 13,316.


Raleigh's Hook and Ladder Company, 1906. Courtesy Raleigh Fire Department

Raleigh, Wake County
August 1909
Paid and volunteer department. All drivers paid, and extra paid man on duty at each fire station at night. Chief, assistant chief, and 75 men. Eight horses. Three stations. Capital Hose Company and Hook and Ladder Company at Headquarters, 112 West Morgan Street: Chief and 35 men. Four horses. One hose wagon with 1,000 feet of hose. One hook and ladder truck. One third-class Metropolitan steam fire engine in reserve. 1,000 feet of hose in reserve. Rescue Hose Company, beside 325 Fayetteville Street: 20 men. Two horses. One hose wagon with 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Victor Hose Company (Negro) at 135 West Hargett Street: 20 men. Two horses. One hose wagon with 1,000 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Gamewell fire alarm system with 36 boxes. Population 25,000.

Today
26 fire stations, 59 pieces of fire apparatus, and 522 career members protecting 130.58 square miles. Population 313,004.

Selma, Johnston County
February 1918
Volunteer, 28 call men. No horses. Fire station at City Hall, 211 Anderson Street. Two hand-drawn hose reels. One hand-drawn ladder truck. 1,200 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Alarm is sounded by ringing bell. Population 2,300.

Today
One fire station, seven pieces of fire apparatus, and 28 volunteer members protecting approximately 20 square miles. Population 6,517.


Smithfield's first fire engine, a Howe hand pump delivered in 1906. Courtesy Smithfield Fire Department

Smithfield, Johnston County
September 1915
Volunteer. Captain, 10 white and 10 negro men. Fire station at 442 North 3rd Street. One hose wagon. Two hose reels. 1,500 feet 2 1/2-inch hose. Ladders. Fire alarm system with whistles and bells. Population 2,000.

Today
One fire station, seven pieces of fire apparatus, 13 career members, and 28 volunteer members protecting 51 square miles. Population 11,601.

Other Photos


Raleigh Fire Department headquarters, circa 1900. Courtesy Raleigh Fire Department


Burlington fire horse Main Stays of Hose Company No. 1, 1908. Courtesy Burlington Fire Department


Durham Station No. 1, circa 1910. Courtesy Durham Firefighters Association and North Carolina State Archives


Chapel Hill firefighters training at Old West Building, 1916. Courtesy Chapel Hill Fire Department


Smithfield's 1927 Seagrave pumper nicknamed Big Bill. Courtesy Smithfield Fire Department


Graham Fire Department in 1940. Courtesy Graham Fire Department


Burlington's Orin pumper from 1944 magazine advertisement

Map

Why Isn't Your City or Town Listed?
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps are available online from NC LIVE for 162 communities in 83 of North Carolina's 100 counties. Most cities and towns were surveyed several times over several decades between the 1880s and the 1950s. Of those maps in the public domain, copyright 1922 or earlier, only 100-some communities in 64 counties had fire equipment or fire departments. See below link to view later-era maps, including the towns of Apex (Wake), Gibsonville (Alamance), Hillsboro (Orange), Mebane (Alamance), Siler City (Chatham), Wake Forest (Wake), Wendell (Wake), and Zebulon (Wake).


References
Fire Alarm! The Fascinating Story Behind The Red Box On The Corner
By Paul Ditzel, published 1990 by Fire Buff House Publishers, ISBN 0925165026. Informative book, though very hard to find
Guide to Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
North Carolina State Demographics

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps via NC LIVE
Requires password available from many local libraries. After logging into NC LIVE, click Browse Resources and select Maps


Related Links
Benson Fire Department
Burlington Fire Department

Durham Fire Department
Durham Fire Department, unofficial site

Raleigh Fire Department
Raleigh Fire Department, unofficial site

Smithfield Fire Department

The Series
Then and Now #1: Down East Fire Departments
Then and Now #2: Northwest Fire Departments
Then and Now #3: Charlotte West Fire Departments
Then and Now #4: Triangle Fire Departments
Then and Now #5: Greensboro West Fire Departments
Then and Now #6: Fayetteville to Goldsboro Fire Departments
Then and Now #7: Warrenton West Fire Departments
Then and Now #8: West Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #9: Northeast Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #10: Western Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #11: Northeast Central Fire Departments
Then and Now #12: Dunn to Pinehurst Fire Departments


Note

A version of this article was published on FireNews.net
in April 29, 2005.

Coming next
Davidson, Forsyth, Guilford, and Randolph counties.

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