The Keeper of Raleigh’s Fire History – News & Observer
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RALEIGH - Mike Legeros calls himself a "fire department historian," a title that has inspired chuckles from chiefs wondering what such a position pays. For the former Raleigh firefighter and unofficial department historian, however, it's entirely a labor of love. "I already have a job." In fact, he has a very good job. Legeros works as a technical trainer for a software company in Cary. "By day I deliver learning," he notes, "and by night I learn about history."
Though he authored two photo histories of Raleigh and Wake County's fire departments in recent years, he's still busy compiling records of the Capitol City. "I covered the photographic bases pretty well then and now have moved into raw data. Yearly and decade run numbers, apparatus and unit chronologies, facility records, etc." He's also compiling a master list of every Raleigh Fire Department member since 1912, the year the full-time department was organized. "Basically I combined the current roster and retiree list with old city directory listings, as well as sundry names encountered in old logs, articles, and annual reports."
This master roster, however, is one of the few things not available from his extensive web site (http://www.legeros.com/fire). "These 1,200+ names and accompanying details are just for my use," he adds. "I also make the information available to the fire department, of course. Their records only extend back a few decades." His extensive list is also helpful when Mike is invariably contacted by a firefighter's relative. "Once every few months I'm contacted by someone's grandchild or a great-grandchild," he explains. "I can usually provide at least a little information and some times even a photo."
Legeros has quite a few historical photos, in fact. Several hundred black-and-white prints reside in three thick albums, reprinted from negatives at the North Carolina State Archives. "I spent quite a few late afternoons and vacation days digging through negative trays." He also has a few hundred more scanned photographs from official and private sources. "Most of the prints and scans relate to Raleigh, though I have considerable number of images for Cary, Apex, RDU Airport, and other county departments." He's also started collecting images of other North Carolina fire departments.
"I'm becoming increasingly interested in fire history statewide," he admits. "Initially, it was former firehouses in Durham, Greensboro, and Charlotte for a series of web articles for FireNews." Referring to the North Carolina-based firefighting news web site (http://www.firenews.net), he adds "then I had an idea to excerpt old Sanborn fire insurance maps around the state." Thus began his "Then and Now" series where Legeros compares past and present fire departments in various regions around the state. "I'm learning about the histories of the towns and cities and meeting quite a few people who have historical interest themselves." Mike is mum on future projects, but he adds "if you or your department has any old photos, look me up!"
Legeros is also a news contributor to FireNews. With three scanners in his car and a Carolinas Fire Page digital pager on his belt, he detours to working fires and major incidents when possible. "I'll take a bunch of pictures and send the best to FireNews and then burn a set for the fire department." He rarely sends submissions to paid media outlets, however. "I'm just happy to snap some good pictures and share them with firefighters." He also contributes incident summaries to the site and even if wasn't on scene. "With input from an EMS official and the Raleigh Fire Department photographer, I assembled a pretty good account of a train derailment the other week." Writing history, in other words.
Posted September 7, 2005