Raleigh Fire Department History 1984


See also this digitized version of the original 1984 commemorative book.


This text history of the Raleigh Fire Department originally appeared in Raleigh Fire Department 1984, a hardcover commemorative book (also called a "yearbook") published by Taylor Publishing and presently out of print. (See this digitized version.) The author of this text is Captain B. T. Fowler, who utilized several sources including research by Wake County historian Elizabeth Reid Murray. Additions to the original text are presented with this yellow background. Deletions from the original text are presented in light gray. The annotations are written by historian Mike Legeros.

The purpose of the annotations are to correct factual errors, and provide additional context and information. Sources for the annotations include subsequent research conducted by Ms. Murray since the time of the publication, and which is available in the Elizabeth Reid Murray Collection at Olivia Raney Local History Library in Raleigh. Other sources include historical information compiled by Mike Legeros, and available on this web site.

This is version 1.1 created November 22, 2010.
This page was last updated on November 30, 2018.

Fire Department of the City of Raleigh

The City of Raleigh, now almost 200 years old, was planned and built on land bought by the State to be the permanent seat of government for North Carolina. The General Assembly, meeting in various towns across the state, had recognized the need for a fixed location to store the State's valuable records and conduct the business of government. A special commission met in 1792 at Isaac Hunter's tavern in Wake County and then at Joel Lane's home. After viewing several proposed parcels of land offered as sites for the new town, the Commission decided to purchase 1,000 acres of land owned by Lane. The total price came to 1,378 pounds, or about 2,756 dollars. Thus, 1792 is the date of the establishment of Raleigh. The new capital was named for Sir Walter Raleigh, known as the father of English America.

The General Assembly provided no town government until three years later, when it appointed seven men as Commissioners to govern the city. Then in 1803, with a population close to 700 persons, Raleigh was granted a charter giving its citizens the right to elect their officials. (The City of Raleigh still operates under a charter granted by the North Carolina General Assembly. Any time the charter needs to be changed, the amendments must be approved by the General Assembly.)

Fire Protection Measures

The original planners for laying out the town streets had fire protection and prevention in mind as they made the four principal streets 99 feet wide and all the others within the 5/8 square mile town limits 66 feet wide. This measure, by reason of distance, protected buildings by helping prevent fires from spreading block to block. The first local regulation aimed at fire prevention was an ordinance forbidding owners to add porches, platforms or other wooden structures on building fronts which would encroach on the streets and create hazards "by fire being communicated across the streets thereby."

The new charter in the early 1800's gave City Commissioners "full power" when fires occurred "to do what they may deem necessary to stop the progress of the calamity," even to the causing of adjoining buildings to be taken down or blown up, without being answerable for any damage to the owner or owners of property so destroyed."

[Demolishing burning buildings, as well as those in the path of a fire, was an early method for controlling fires and preventing flames from spreading to other structures nearby. Buildings would be brought down using a variety of means, including blasting powder and hooks and chains.]

The Commissioners were empowered to make it a duty of every adult male living in Raleigh to take his turn as a member of the City Watch, which patrolled the streets to apprehend lawbreakers and "to be particular in respect to Fire." In case a blaze was discovered, those on watch were to ring the large bell in the yard of Casso's Inn at the head of Fayetteville Street, "in order to alarm the citizens." Then it was every citizen's duty to rush to the scene with his water bucket or sand buckets, ladders, or whatever other equipment he might have, to help fight the fire. Raleigh's Commissioners made a beginning toward a City Building Code by adopting regulations in 1838 designed as fire prevention measures. One forbade construction of any wooden buildings in the first block of Fayetteville Street that had recently been destroyed by fire. A second prohibited burning shavings or other materials in the street. Then a third regulated stovepipe and hearth construction in private as well as public buildings, with a provision for regular inspections by City Constables as to their safety. Half a century later, a special city ordinance prohibited merchants from keeping more than one keg of powder in their stores. Another decreed that "no liquors shall be allowed in any engine or other house belonging to the department, or at any fire."

Water Supply

Water, that all-important ingredient for the extinguishment of fires, was in short supply during most of Raleigh's first century. For many years the city was dependent on wells for its fire-fighting water supply. Several attempts were made early in the 1800's to provide a reliable water supply system, but most failed. One in 1818 was particularly expensive and insufficient: A series of underground cisterns, begun in the 1850's, provided much needed water for emergencies from tanks holding from 10,000 to 50,000 gallons located at several strategic points throughout the city.

[The first cisterns were approved for construction after a major fire in December 1851. They augmented the private and public wells that were used as water sources for firefighting. A map of the city drawn in 1847 showed five public pumps on Fayetteville (3), Hargett (1), and Hillsboro (1) streets. The cisterns built after 1851 were described decades later as "built of brick and cement, with stones over the top, and the {rain}water ran into them from buildings nearby, through special pipes."]

[Three decades later, in the city's annual report of 1884, the smallest of the cisterns was listed with a capacity of 7,000 gallons. The next largest was listed as 10,000 gallons. These cisterns were likely enlarged after the purchase of the fire steam fire engine in 1870. The steamer could pump 600 gallons of water per minute, which was much greater than the prior hand-powered fire engines. Thus, the steamer would quickly drain smaller-capacity cisterns.]

Finally, in 1886, the Raleigh Water Works Company began laying water lines and installing hydrants. These hydrants were used to fight fires and also to keep the cisterns filled with water. The main water supply was pumped from Walnut Creek to a 100,000-gallon iron tank placed on top of an 85-foot water tower, still standing in the 100 block of West Morgan Street.

[The city contracted with a company from Dayton, OH, to construct and maintain the system. It was installed over several subsequent months and placed in service on October 13, 1887. The water system drew its supply from Walnut Creek near Asylum Road. Water was sent through 14- and 15-inch pipes to a pump house at the Jonas Mill site. Three sand pits, wire strainers, and a charcoal and gravel filter system were used for cleaning. On the north side of the pond, 1,832,000-gallon reservoir was built. Two steam-powered pumps provided an aggregate capacity of 2,052,084 gallons per day.]

[A water tower on Morgan Street was also built, with a tank that held 101,516 gallons. The tank was connected to the water system with a 12-inch pipe. The connection could be closed, allowing for greater pressure to be exerted in the water mains and the fire hydrants connected to the system. This was called "direct pressure" and was requested for fires that required greater hydrant pressure. The system included 120 double fire hydrants. The regular pressure from the hydrants was sufficient for extinguishing most fires, and hose reels and hose wagons soon supplanted the hand engines and steam engine at fires.]

[The water tower adjoined a two-story brick building that served as a combination hose house for the newly formed Capital Hose Company, and the office of the Raleigh Water Works Company. The building and the water tower base are still standing today.]

Citizen's Duty

In every age, wherever people have built, whether together in cities or alone in rural areas, the danger of fire has been ever present. As communities grow, the need for people to band together in some manner to protect themselves from the hazards of fire is absolutely essential. Raleigh was no exception to this rule. The loss of buildings by fire occurred frequently. At first the City's only available water supply was wells; most were private, and only a few were equipped with pumps. Thus Raleigh, a town of small shops and houses built close together, was vulnerable to fire from the outset.

In the beginning every citizen had a duty to combat fires when they occurred. This was done early through the old "bucket brigade" process-- forming lines of people to pass buckets of water from the supply to the fire and back for refilling. It was necessary to fight fire with whatever was available. Dozens of volunteers, however, were unable to deal quickly with one of early Raleigh's most destructive fires, one that began shortly before midnight on June 11, 1816. Roused from their beds by the cry of "Fire!" they struggled valiantly against a blaze that quickly grew out of control and within two hours had destroyed 51 buildings in the first two blocks of Fayetteville Street, Raleigh's main business area. To check its progress, it was necessary to dynamite a building in the path of the flames. The State House in Union Square was saved by men who climbed to its roof to wet it down.

First Equipment - First Fire Company

Two years later the City ordered a fire engine that had been authorized in 1814. This much-needed piece of fighting equipment finally arrived in March 1819. It was described as "a very complete Fire Engine from Philadelphia, with a supply pump, a sufficient length of hose, Fire Hooks and chain." It was evident that the local citizens had been anxiously awaiting its arrival, for on the very next day they organized Raleigh's first volunteer fire company. Raleigh Register editor Joseph Gales was named President; the Captain was Jacob Lash, who had installed the ill-fated 1818 waterworks system.

The fire company had difficulty maintaining its full complement of forty men. This lack of interest probably contributed to equipment failure and the difficulty with the water system, which in a few years was reported to have gone "out of repair and remained so." A new law in 1826 authorized the City to draft for fire service citizens if fewer than forty volunteered each year. A captain, four other officers, and the forty men were to exercise with the engine at least every other month. Likewise a $5 fine was imposed on any other male citizen who might fail to lend assistance when the fire alarm sounded. Evidently matters did improve, as it was reported in the late 1820's that the company was more successful in putting out fires because the fire engine now was kept in good repair; it "was got out with great expedition and most of the company were at their posts."

"Famous" Early Fires

"Awful calamity!" This was the lead line in the Raleigh Star of June 23, 1831. The State House of North Carolina had been consumed by fire on the 21st. Wells, buckets and one pump were all that the firemen had at their disposal when the building burned. Adding significantly to the tragedy was the destruction of the marble statue of Washington by the great Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova. The statue was one of the masterpieces of the world. It was noted by some in that day that there was nothing in America to compare with it.

The State House fire, which was one in a series of fires over a three-year period in the early 1830's, caused so much fire consciousness that governments on all three levels-- State, County and City-- determined to construct more fire resistant buildings. The new State Capitol, completed in 1840 to replace the State House, was of granite; and both the 1837 Wake County Courthouse and the 1840 City Hall and Market House were built of brick. Also, several businessmen whose stores and buildings had burned in the first block of Fayetteville Street in 1833 replaced them with brick structures.

An 1841, fire gave Raleigh fire-fighters an impromptu chance to show their ingenuity. The fire was traveling from one wooden building to another when the pump was brought into play and the hose burst, allowing the water to run over the ground. The quick thinking firemen scooped up the mud and threw it on the walls of the next building, where the water and clay mix formed a nonconductor of heat; and in this manner the fire was checked and extinguished. The grateful citizens dubbed this heroic band "The Mud Company" and this well-earned nickname stuck fast.

Second Engine - Second Company

With the City growing (the 1840 Census indicated 2,244), the Commissioners felt the need for another fire engine and so bought the "Perseverance" to help make up for the woeful inadequacy of the tiny 1819 engine. They formed a second volunteer fire company to man this new piece of equipment and bought additional much-needed fire hose. Two new pumps on Fayetteville and Hillsboro Streets were installed.

[The city's second hand engine was purchased by April 1843. The engine was named Perseverance, and a second fire company named Perseverance Fire Company formed one month earlier.]

[Reorganizing The Fire Department]

The 1850 Census revealed that the City's population had more than doubled in the previous decade. Fire protection had not kept pace with the growth of the City.

Mid-December of 1851 brought an especially destructive fire. This one destroyed more than seventeen structures on Fayetteville, Hargett, and Wilmington Streets. On the following day, the Commissioners held an emergency meeting and instituted a series of measures to upgrade the City's fire-fighting capabilities. This was the fire that prompted the start of the cisterns system. Constructed with borrowed money, the cisterns held water "to be used in case of fire and on no other occasion." The Commissioners also allocated funds to deepen the public wells and to install metal forcing pumps in several. Two new fire engines were bought at this time, the Excelsior and the Rescue, which gave their names to two of the three forty-man fire companies into which the volunteers were reorganized; the third, with twenty men, was a hook and ladder company. The addition of these fire engines and men helped maintain a much-improved organization until the Civil War, when many of the volunteers entered the Confederate Army.

[The two hand engines arrived in 1853. The two engine companies, Fire Company No. 1 and No. 2., were renamed the Excelsior and Rescue companies. No information has been found on the manufacturer of the engines, nor their technical specifications. Nor has information been found to indicate if the third fire company, the Hook & Ladder Company, utilized a vehicle or apparatus.]

First (Temporary) Salaried Fire Chief and Fire House

The first salaried fire chief in the City's history was named during 1852. Chief Seymour W. Whiting was also a member of the board of City Commissioners. He was paid $100 a year while his men, volunteers and draftees, continued to serve without pay. The position, however, was discontinued in less than two years.

The City's first provision for housing its fire-fighting equipment was made in 1853 [1855], when the City Commissioners made additions to the 1840 Municipal Building [Market House] located on [Fayetteville Street at] the site of the present downtown Wachovia Bank Building. The fire engine house was at the Wilmington Street end of the building. Raleigh's population was now (1860) 4,780 persons within the newly expanded (1857) city area of about 1 3/4 square miles.

[On April 12, 1861, the Civil War began with shots fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Our state joined the Confederacy one month later. The Capitol City was spared destruction during the conflict. General Sherman of the Union Army occupied Raleigh on April 14, 1865. Twelve days later, North Carolina surrendered.]

Picture - Hand-Drawn Pumper, 1859

[The origin of this illustration is not known, and may not necessarily represent the specific type of hand engine used in Raleigh in that time period]

Difficulty with equipment again occurred following the Civil War. Fire destroyed numerous buildings. One disastrous series of fires included one that demolished the City Hall and Market. An 1868 reporter noted, "The engines refused to work, and there was not enough force in the machines to throw water 20 feet from the mouth of the pipe." Another newspaper editorialized: "The firemen deserve all praise, and above all, deserve and should at once have the best and most effective apparatus ... Raleigh ought to have at least one Steam Fire Engine."

[In 1866, the city was re-chartered and the governing body was increased from three to nine commissioners. The powers of the body were also increased.]

Chiefs of the Volunteer Fire Department

The following year (1869) [In 1867], the Commissioners adopted a new code of ordinances under which Joseph D. Backalan was elected General Superintendent or Fire Chief. Thereafter, there was to be a responsible person in charge of Raleigh's fire protection. Volunteer [Fire] Department Chiefs included, following Backalan:

John C. Gorman, 1871;
H.T. Clawson, ca. 1875;
Joseph H. Green, ca. 1877;
Thomas W. Blake, ca. 1884;
Edward B. Engelhard, ca. 1889;
L.A. Mahler, ca. 1896;
Lonnie H. Lumsden, ca. 1901;
Walter Woollcott, ca. 1903;
Frank B. Simpson, ca. 1907;
J.W. Mangum, 1908 1909; and
Lonnie H. Lurnsden (again), 1909-1912.

It was decided by the people of Raleigh to reorganize the volunteers into four [three] new fire companies. [The 1867 ordinances placed the responsibility of organizing the three fire companies each year in the hands of the Mayor. Later that year, a fourth fire company organized, the Bucket Company.] While still under Chief Backalan, new foremen were placed in charge of the following four companies: [By 1870, Chief Backalan supervised the following four fire companies, each of which was led by a Foreman:]

(1) Rescue Fire Engine Company, which had been named the Merchants Fire Company until the arrival of the Rescue Steam Fire Engine in 1870; J.C. Brewster, foreman.

(2) Hook and Ladder Company; E.H. Ray, foreman.

(3) The Bucket Company; W.T. Stronach, foreman. [This company was reorganized by  a group of black firefighters in 1872.]

(4) The Victor Company, [which had been named Fire Company No. 1 and which was] the City's first company of black fire-fighters; James H. Jones, foreman.

Some of the equipment of these four companies was housed at the back of the new (1870) city government building, called Metropolitan Hall, which replaced the destroyed City Hall and Market.

[The Market House and two other buildings were destroyed in a December 1868 fire. The replacement municipal building was a combination City Market, auditorium, Mayor's office, jail, and fire station. The clock tower also housed a bell that served as the fire alarm.]

First Steam Fire Engine

Shortly after this reorganization in 1870, with the City now having a census of 7,790 persons, Raleigh had its first steam fire engine, purchased with donations solicited by the Rescue Company. [The engine weighed 6,000 pounds, and its hose carriage weighted 2,200 pounds. The capacity of the steamer was 600 GPM.]

The members leased from the County an 18x30 foot site on the Salisbury Street side of the Wake County courthouse lot; there they built the engine house that the company occupied until the City replaced the volunteers with a salaried, professional fire department in the 20th century. The building was utilized until it was torn down in 1914 to make way for a new County Courthouse. Many of those involved in this venture were returning Confederate veterans who had seen what fire can do in the burning of several Southern cities.

The Rescue Steam Engine Company, as well as providing protection for Raleigh, was chartered by the State to protect "the State Capitol and Other State property." Two years later, the $3,900 indebtedness remaining on the $5,000 steam engine was assumed by the City. The men themselves pulled the "Rescue" to fires for seven [nine] years; thereafter, it was pulled by a team of horses furnished by the City.

Image Placeholder - Active Member Certification, 1891

[Before 1879, private horses were also pressed into service to pull the steamer for parades and some fires. Within a couple years after 1879, the horses stabled at the Rescue Company were placed under control of the Street Department. They were used for other purposes, but required to return to the fire station at the first sound of the fire alarm.]

[In November 1872, a new hand-pulled hook and ladder truck was delivered to the Hook and Ladder Company. In May 1875, a fire alarm system was created that divided the city into four division. When a fire was reported, the city bell at Metropolitan Hall would ring the corresponding division number. A few years later, a fifth division was added along Fayetteville Street. In 1875, a new Rumsey and Company hand engine was purchased for the Victor Company. The hand-pulled and hand-powered engine weighed about 3,400 pounds, and its separate hose carriage weighed 1,600 pounds. The capacity of the engine was estimated two years later as 250 GPM. In 1876, a new hand-drawn bucket and ladder truck was delivered to the Bucket Company.]

Reminiscences About the Volunteers

"Col. Fred A. Olds, a boy at the time the Rescue was obtained, later recalled: It used to be a great sight ... to see the men run to a fire, in daytime or at night. The long lines of rope, gay with colored cords and tassels and handholds of knots every few feet, were pulled out from the little reel in front and away the crowd went, sometimes through mud knee deep; any citizen was very proud to lend a hand, and the engine being as big an attraction as the fire itself. Then when it was horse drawn it was a gay sight to see it racing over the rough streets, which were without even a suggestion of pavement anywhere. Another of Colonel Olds' recollections further described the City's 1870's fire-fighting equipment and the men themselves:

There were two hand engines, each of these rather like a long box, gaily painted, with hose known as suction hose, which was let down into a street cistern or into a shallow well, while the firemen took hold of the rods on either side which worked the pumps, raising these and pulling them down with a swing altogether; sometimes other firemen standing on the machine and in this way giving their weight, so that there were two rows on the ground and two on the machine. Meanwhile the bucket men with their leather buckets were busy, and so were the hook and ladder people. Everybody shouted; but the chief, with a big red hat and a trumpet, was luckily able to make more fuss than all the others put together and that was his long suit. The firemen often went to a fire in their best clothes and the joy, if that is a good name for it, of seeing the aforesaid clothes practically ruined."

The volunteer fire fighter in those days, just as many still are, was required to bear his own expenses. These included the tools of his trade-- buckets, axes, ladders, clothing, or whatever. The only remuneration consisted of occasional voluntary contributions made by those served. It was thus that Raleigh's Volunteer Fire Department went through the romantic age-- each company its own entity, but very much a part of the whole department; proud of its accomplishments and true to its responsibilities.

It was the era of the parade and it didn't take much of an excuse to have one. The Fire Companies participated in special events such as Fourth of July celebrations and political get-togethers. They also staged their own parades, turning out in their best finery; nearly all had colorful uniforms and helmets by this time. On such occasions the men staged contests between companies, featuring ladder climbs, hose lays, running, and speed and pulling tests for horses and equipment. Usually every fireman was soaked as well as a number of citizens.

Chemical Fire Fighting

A fifth volunteer company, the Phoenix (Chemical) Fire Company was formed in 1879 upon the members' acquisition of a "wonderful new engine which carried its own liquid" for use in putting out fires chemically. One old-timer recalled that these young volunteers had new ideas about fire-fighting and could hardly wait to dumbfound the older firemen with their wonderful new apparatus. When questioned about the new fire engine, they answered that it was a chemical engine which carried its own liquid; they boasted that with it they could extinguish a fire before the others could start their pumps. The Rescue Company challenged them at once. A fire was built; the chemical engine did respond, extinguished the fire before the steam engine could be fired up, and thereby won the bet. The winners went to Frapps's Bar to celebrate and while so engaged a real alarm of fire came in and both companies rushed to the scene. The Rescue Company won all honors at the real fire, because the Chemical Company, excited over their victory, had failed to recharge the tank. The Phoenix Company, whose equipment included soda buckets and acid chambers, was quartered with two other companies at the rear of Metropolitan Hall. Shortly it possessed two engines-- one double-cylinder and one single-cylinder. F.H. Heartt was the company's first foreman.

Image Placeholder - Horse-Drawn Chemical and Hose Wagon, 1880

[This illustration is believed to be a stock image of a combination horse-drawn chemical and hose wagon. No record has been found of such apparatus used in the Raleigh Fire Department.]

[The Phoenix Chemical Company received a hand-drawn single-cylinder Champion chemical engine in 1878. The apparatus was pulled by four or five men. It weight about 2,520 when fully loaded. They relocated from Metropolitan Hall to an engine house on Wilmington Street in 1881. That same year, they received a hand-pulled, four-wheel, double-cylinder Champion chemical engine. The $200 apparatus was also furnished with nozzles, 200 feet of hose, buckets and axes, and two 18-foot ladders. They purchased a pair of horses in 1883 to pull the double-tank engine. They relocated again in 1886 to an engine house on the City Lot at the corner of Salisbury and Davie streets.]

[On March 6, 1883, all but one building burned at Saint Augustine's Normal School. Located beyond the city limits, the Mayor granted permission for a portion of the fire department to respond. The Rescue steam engine, the smaller Phoenix engine, and the Bucket Company answered the call. Though there was plenty of water for the steamer to use at a nearby lake, the firemen could not control the flames. Only the portion of one building, a dormitory, was saved. The college was rebuilt, and exists today.]

City Fire Committee

During the decade of the 1880's, Raleigh grew from a city of over 9,000 persons to one of more than 12,000. Her fire needs grew proportionately; and the city fathers, now Aldermen [and as changed from a governing body of Commissioners in 1876], took steps to meet them. They began by adopting completely revised Code of Ordinances. Completion of the Municipal Water works in 1887 was of crucial importance; included were 120 fire hydrants. On November 4, 1887, on the recommendation by T.W. Blake, Chief Engineer of the Volunteer Fire Department, the Aldermen appointed a Fire Commission (later Committee) of five citizens who were to look into the concerns of fire protection for the City and make recommendations for further improvements.

The increased water supply brought the need for more hose and more fire-fighters. Three additional groups organized: the Capital Hose Company with Frank H. Lumsden as Foreman; the Independent Hose Company under Foreman M. Andrews, and the Phoenix Hose Company, which soon merged with the Capital.

Electric Fire Alarm System.

Less than three years after electricity became available in Raleigh, the Fire Commission, at a cost of $2,800, installed a Gamewell electric fire alarm telegraph system [in 1888 and] consisting initially of ten alarm boxes scattered throughout the City. The first test was sounded from Box 42 to test "the promptness of the department in noticing and answering it." The Commissioners, to the Fire Department report, "were perfectly in both particulars." This system was upgraded and increased on many occasions and used by the present fire department well past the mid 1950's.

[The fire alarm system was used until 1973.]

Seven volunteer fire companies now made up the fire protection for the City of Raleigh. Each company had a membership of 19 to 62 volunteers, together totaling 275 men. Chief Engineer Thomas W. Blake noted that "a spirit of rivalry actuates each company to be first at the fire and to do the most where their services are needed." The firefighters took great pride in being on the scene of a fire as quickly as possible. These companies and their firehouse locations were as follows:

(1) The Rescue Company had three horses and two horse-drawn vehicles: the original "second class Gould Steamer" and a two-wheeled hose truck, plus two man-pulled hose trucks. Their engine-house was located on Fayetteville Street between Martin and Davie Streets.

(2) The Phoenix Chemical Company's two engines, pulled by were housed at the firehouse on the courthouse [City] lot [at the corner of Salisbury and Davie streets].

(3) The Capital Hose Reel Company, with headquarters on West Morgan Street opposite the [in a building connected to the] Water Tower.

(4) The Hook and Ladder Company was housed at Metropolitan Hall.

(5) The Independent Hose Reel Company was located near the corner of Blount and Morgan Streets [in a rented building on Morgan Street west of Blount Street].

(6) The Victor Hand Engine Company, Raleigh's first black company, housed its man-pulled vehicle at Metropolitan Hall.

(7) The Bucket and Ladder Company, a second company of black fire-fighters, also kept its man-drawn wagon at Metropolitan Hall.

North Carolina Firemen's Association

The North Carolina Firemen's Association (as of August 1984, representing nearly 30,000 fire-men of volunteer and paid departments), had its beginning in 1888. The seed was sown at a fireman's tournament held in Greensboro September 12 and 13 that year. Chief E.B. Engelhard of Raleigh was one of three volunteer firemen [Fire Chiefs] who led in its formation as the North Carolina State Firemen's Association. Another of the originators later recalled that it was the success of this tournament that gave firemen "the courage to form the association to provide for annual meetings of the kind." The NCSFA (later NCFA) held its first annual convention in Raleigh, September 26, 1889. Among permanent officers elected were Chief Englehard and F.H. Lumsden of Raleigh. The following year Engelhard became President. Others from Raleigh joining the association at that time were Frank Brannan, T.W. Blake, C.T. Wier, and I.N. Howard. The Raleigh Fire Department has continued to maintain active participation in the NCFA.

Chief E.B. Engelhard, upon succeeding Chief T.W. Blake December 22, 1888, as Chief of the Fire Department and Superintendent of the Fire Alarm Telegraph, reported to the City Commissioners that "the Fire Department, as a whole, is composed of men attentive to duty, faithful in its discharge of duties, prompt in its execution, and willing at all times to make any sacrifice for the good of the City and for the preservation of life and property. These volunteer firemen deserve at your hands a just recognition for their labors. They deserve to be properly equipped with apparatus; they deserve to be remembered after the fire is extinguished and not forgotten until their services are needed again."

[In 1889, the Capital Hose Company moved to a new engine house across the street from their old quarters at 116 West Morgan Street. They also upgraded their apparatus from a hand-drawn hose reel to horse-drawn hose wagon. The larger size of the apparatus, as well as the presence horses, required a larger location.]

Fire-fighting in the 1890's

The wording of some of Chief Engelhard's other recommendations revealed several details about fire-fighting in the 1890's. For example, he suggested that the faithful old Rescue's engine house "be enlarged so as to permit the engine to be located in a position opposite the door, and not have it stored away in one corner," and "that sufficient room outside of [the firemen's] meeting hall be provided for the men who sleep there." Another suggestion for greater efficiency was that, as soon as possible, changes be made which would have certain companies answer an alarm of fire to stated boxes, while others would be called into service as needed. This would stop long runs by hand hose companies when their services were not needed and keep men and equipment in reserve for any other fire which might occur.

Image Placeholder - Hose Wagon, 1890

At the same time, the Fire Commission caused to be installed six new Gamewell non-interference fire alarm boxes, bringing the total to 18. The Raleigh and Gaston railroad financing the locating of a 19th near their building at North Street. Chief Engelhard reported that six volunteer firemen, at their own expense, had installed tap bells in their homes, with the result that they usually were first to answer an alarm of fire at night. He also noted, however, that some men very seldom reported to fires and that it would be better that these be out of the department to make places for active firemen. Another recommendation of the Fire Committee to the Board of Aldermen was that they purchase shut off nozzles and relief valves for the reel companies to cut down on water loss. Another was for the Chief and his assistant to have authority in their discretion to disperse people who interfere with the department in the discharge of their duties.

NCFA Tournament Records

Raleigh Fire Companies participated in NCFA Tournaments which tested their skill and strength. They established numerous state and world records. When Chief Engelhard noted in 1890 that "not a single house" had been destroyed during the year, he gave much of the credit for this record "to the work done by companies practicing for tournaments, in which they have always been successful."

[The Victor Company, comprised of volunteer black firefighters, also participated in tournaments conducted statewide by the North Carolina Colored Fireman's Association. That organization was formed at about the same time as the North Carolina State Fireman's Association.]

Image Placeholder - World's Record for Showing Water, 1902

The Chief concluded his report by pointing out the value of the volunteer firemen to the citizens of Raleigh and urged the provision of suitable apparatus and appliances. The old [1870] Rescue Steamer and the old [1873] hand engine, by this time relegated to the "reserve force," were in serious need of repair. Soon the Hook and Ladder Company acquired a new steel frame truck and was renamed the W.R. Womble Hook and Ladder in honor of the Chairman of the Fire Committee. This truck carried 215 feet of ladders which included a 65-foot Bangor extension ladder; also two pompier scaling ladders, two fire extinguishers, and an assortment of valuable fire-fighting tools. The truck was housed on West Morgan Street in the wooden building occupied by the Capital Hose Reel Company. The Victor Company acquired a [replaced their hand engine with a] horse-drawn reel wagon [hose reel] and relocated at the corner of Davie and Salisbury Streets.

[In 1890, the Hook & Ladder Company relocated from Metropolitan Hall to a new building constructed on the north side of the 100 block W. Morgan Street. The ladder company also became horse-drawn that year.]

The Department's 123 men were now organized in five companies instead of seven, the Independent Hose Reel Company having disbanded because its hand reel was outmoded and the name Phoenix Chemical having disappeared from the roster of companies. Chief Engelhard's 1891 report indicated that the City was equipped with 125 double fire hydrants and that the municipal water works was capable of supplying 4 million gallons daily, and that for fire fighting, the pressure could be increased from 85 to 115 pounds.

It was also in 1891 that the State Firemen's Relief Fund Act was passed by the General Assembly, largely through the efforts of the NCFA

[Also in 1891, the fire alarm boxes now included keys. Previously, the keys to the alarm boxes were held by a nearby key holder, who had to be located at the time of reporting a fire.]

West Morgan Street Station

In 1892 [the spring of 1896], a new Fire Department Building with a drill tower was built [opened] on the north side of West Morgan Street on the site formerly occupied by the Capital Hose Reel Co. and Womble Hook and Ladder Company [engine houses]. This building, adapted as headquarters in 1912, continued as [Station] No. 1 Station for both volunteer and paid professional department for more than 50 years.

[Also in the spring of 1892, new pumps were placed in service at the waterworks plant. Though the gravity-fed pressure from the fire hydrants measured 50 pounds per square inch, and was sufficient for ordinary firefighting, the new pumps could create "direct pressure" as high as 100 pounds per square inch.]

[Also that year, the Victor Company hosted the convention and tournament of the North Carolina Volunteer Firemen's Association. Visiting fire companies included firefighters from Charlotte, Greensboro, and Wilmington. The city's second company of black firefighters, now called the Bucket and Ladder Company, also disbanded in 1892. The number of volunteer fire companies had shrunk from five to four.]

Image Placeholder - Station One, 1900

About 1896, Raleigh was the first City in America to install in the new [fire] department building a storage battery system, together with a switchboard for regulating the Gamewell fire alarm telegraph system.

A fire in 1897 [On April 7, 1897, a night fire] destroyed the Victor Company's firehouse with its horses and all apparatus. [An exploding lamp on the hose reel partially consumed the station and the apparatus. The two horses were killed and 100 feet of hose was destroyed.] A new station was built [As the city was already planning new quarters for the Victor Company, a two-story station was soon constructed] at the corner of Blount and Hargett Streets for the company's new horses and equipment. It [opened in 1898 and was addressed 135 W. Hargett Street. It later] became Station No. 3 in the 20th century professional department and remained a fire station until 1951.

[On October 14, 1897, a special train carried the Rescue Company hose wagon, Rescue Company steam engine, and some 25 members of the four fire companies to Durham. Just after noon, the City Clerk's office received a call from help. Numerous tobacco factories and dwellings were ablaze in the neighboring city. The fire was controlled by the time the Raleigh boys arrived. With no fire to fight, the visitors toured the city and were entered by the Durham Fire Chief and members of his department. This was one of several times that the volunteer fire department responded as mutual aid to a neighboring community, with their equipment and personnel carried by train to such places as Cary, Durham, and Fayetteville.]

20th Century Needs

As the 20th century opened, Raleigh's population had grown to 13,643 persons. More were added in 1907 when the city limits were extended, bringing the area of Raleigh to just over 4 square miles.

[In July 1902, the fire department hosted the North Carolina State Firemen's Association convention and tournament. Over 32 fire companies participated in the competition. In August, the Victor Company hosted the North Carolina Colored Firemen's Association convention and tournament.]

[The city's second steam fire engine was delivered in July 1905. Built by American LaFrance, it replaced the 35-year-old Rescue Company steamer. Acceptance tests for the $6,500, horse-drawn engine were conducted at the corner of Fayetteville and Davie streets. By May of the following year, Rescue Steamer Co. 2 had organized. It later changed its name to the L.A. Mahler Steamer Company.]

[Also in 1905, the dormitory at the Catholic orphanage west of the city caught fire. Five young men, students at the orphanage preparing for the priesthood, escaped from jumping from the four-story building. Three were injured, and one later died. Members of the Rescue and Hook & Ladder companies responded, but could do little but prevent the fire from spreading to other buildings. A group of "cadets" from A&M College (now North Carolina State University) also assisted with the firefighting. The fatality likely inspired the legend of "Cry Baby Lane," a nearby road at that location where, decades later, visitors purportedly heard the screaming of children and smell smoke.]

By 1910, the census showed more than 19,000 residents to be protected by the volunteer fire-fighters. A few improvements had been made, including the City's furnishing rubber coats and rubber boots for the firemen, as well as water heaters in their firehouses. But, more were needed. In 1911, [Fire] Chief L.H. Lumsden, after noting to the Board of Aldermen that Raleigh was now 2 1/2 times larger than it had been in 1907, recommended that the City begin acquiring newly available motorized fire apparatus to replace horse-drawn vehicles.

Image Placeholder - Fire Department Officers, 1912

[In May 1911, the National Board of Fire Underwriters presented a report on Raleigh's fire protection capabilities. The 21-page document was addressed to Mayor James I. Johnson, and said about the fire department that "the city has now attained a size such that adequate protection cannot be expected from a volunteer fire department; the increased congestion of construction and of values demands a promptness of response and concentration of effort during the first few minutes of a fire which can best be obtained through a full paid department. The appointment of chief officers for short terms, instead of indefinitely, introduces opportunities for political interference and incompetent management."

The report also stated that "fire{fighting} methods are very unsatisfactory; direct hydrant streams are used exclusively, and with the present very poor {water} distribution system, adequate quantities of water are not available at even fair pressure to fight a moderate fire. The department is practically without discipline, there being little or no control over the individual members, which, together with the lack of drills, has resulted in very low general efficiency."

It also said "the water supply is inadequate and unreliable, the fire department is extremely weak and inefficient and would be hampered by overhead wire obstructions, and there is very little private fire protection, so that the probability of serious fires is high." The board's recommendations for changes include water system improvements, additional hydrants, and that "the present fire organization be disbanded and that a full paid department be organized."]

Initiation of the Professional Department

The following recollections of the 1912 events were compiled 20 years later by participants in that change and published in a 1944 souvenir Fire Department booklet:

In 1911, Mr. Alexander Webb, a prominent citizen of Raleigh, an official of the North Carolina Home Insurance Company and initially interested in the fire protection of the City of Raleigh, as a member of the Board of Aldermen, saw the need of a reorganized, motorized fire department and, in that year, started a program toward that end. In this, he received the full support and assistance from J. Sherwood Upchurch, veteran Alderman; W. A. Cooper; and C.A. Johnson, Chairman of the Fire Committee.

After the necessary preliminary surveys and the election of [,] a young, energetic fireman with mechanical training [named Sherwood Brockwell was appointed] to the Office of Chief of Fire Department[. He was the city's first full-time fire chief.], Mr. Webb [then] engineered the purchase of two automobile fire trucks and arranged for this new chief to attend the Fire College and Drill School of the Fire Department of the City of New York.

This young chief was well received by the New York Department and after assisting in fighting several large fires there, participated in a spectacular rescue of several women trapped on the fourth floor of the Bennett Restaurant there and remained in the New York Department to receive "Certificate of Graduation," thus becoming the first North Carolina fireman to complete the course in the Fire Department of the City of New York.

After graduating from the New York Fire College and Drill School, this chief entered the factory manufacturing the automobile fire trucks for Raleigh and, being a mechanic, assisted in assembling several trucks and fire pumps.

Upon returning to Raleigh, he was elected the first Paid Chief of the present Department and supervised the organization of the new Raleigh Fire Department. In December 1912, this newly organized department took over all apparatus, equipment, except the fire alarm system which was left in another department, tools and appliances and the work of extensive training of the personnel was begun. The original members of this department, reporting for duty the first [last] week in December 1912 were: Sherwood Brockwell, Chief; Charles D. Farmer, Assistant Chief; Peter Welch and Archie Doolittle, Captains; Henry Parrish, Hubert Horton and W.P. Joyner, Lieutenants; Edward Blake, Eugene Lassiter, Lee Justice, Oka Hester, Andrew Martin, Matthew Barker, G.W. Higgins, E.D. Castlebury, W.F. Niblock and R.M. Simmons, Firemen.

Image Placeholder - First Paid Firemen, 1913

To these, during the first few succeeding months were added: Duncan Lloyd (brother of present Assistant Chief), W.E. Holland (later [Fire] Chief), Fleming Hicks (later [Fire] Chief), J.D. Jones, Charles Gaston, E.E. Jones, Robert Maynard, Herbert Peebles and M.E. Perry, all receiving training similar to that of the Fire Department of the City of New York. This feature has been continued at all times by the Fire Department of the City of Raleigh and contributed to the establishment of the first state-operated fire department personnel training program in the United States.

Pending the arrival of the automobile apparatus, the headquarters station on Morgan Street, originally built to accommodate the Walter B. Womble Hook and Ladder Company and the Capital Hose Company in 1892 [1896], was remodeled, enlarged and altered to accommodate the motor apparatus, the drill tower was modernized and height added and the fire alarm system portion separated from the main fire station and fireproofed.

The Rescue Station (changed to No. 2 station) located on Fayetteville Street was remodeled to accommodate motor apparatus and the interior of the Victor Station, thus becoming Station No. 3, was renewed, but this station remained a horse-drawn hose wagon station until the department was completely motorized in 1915.

Image Placeholder - Training Tower Behind Station One, 1912

Image Placeholder - Old and New Equipment Used in 1914

First Motorized Equipment

By February, 1913, all was in readiness for the arrival of the long-awaited motor apparatus which had been ordered in July, 1912, the first two pieces being painted white and trimmed with blue stripes and nickel-plated exposed metal parts. Raleigh, though not the first North Carolina city to purchase motor apparatus, was the first city in the state to purchase two such units at the same time.

[The city's first motor fire engines were two 1911 American LaFrance Type 5 combination hose and chemical trucks. They had four-cylinder, 48 HP motors. They were equipped with 1,000 feet of hose, 24 feet of ladders, a 40-gallon chemical tank, a roof ladder, and other equipment. They were driven by Chief Brockwell and Asst. Chief Farmer until the regular drivers were trained. Each cost $9,800.]

Then the apparatus was delivered, the usual tests were made and, while these were satisfactory, many citizens were dubious, especially of their ability to perform in bad weather, Raleigh having very few paved streets at the time, but this doubt was short-lived as the first run made by these two motor trucks in the response to an actual alarm of fire was to the Murphey School where the lives of over three hundred Raleigh children and teachers were endangered in a burning two-story wooden building.

This run made through about two inches of snow over unpaved streets and in record time, established the motor fire apparatus in Raleigh and the performances of the Raleigh Fire Department at this fire was later recorded in John Kenlon's book, 'Fires and Firefighters,' as a contrast to the Collinswood School disaster, as not one child nor teacher was injured in the Murphey School fire, all drilling out, many over outside fire escapes, to safety. This fire also hastened the enactment of the present state law requiring fire drills in public school buildings.

As of March 7, 1913, all volunteer fire companies were declared "out of commission" and were not "allowed to respond to any alarm of fire as an organization of the Fire Department"; nor were they to be permitted the use of the city streets, nor connection to fire hydrants. During the same year, to make room for new (completed 1915) Wake County Courthouse, the building originally built in 1870 for the old volunteer Rescue Company was torn down and a new station was erected on Salisbury Street to accommodate professional Company No. 2.

[Also in 1913, a new city charter replaced the Board of Alderman with a commissioner form of government. The fire department, along with police and health departments and the market house were overseen by the Commission(er?) of Public Safety.]

[The new Station No. 2 opened at 412 S. Salisbury Street in or around September 1914.]

Also that year, Chief Brockwell reported a serious lack of water pressure while fighting a fire at the News and Observer's West Martin Street building, following collapse of a water main from the water works. The continuing usefulness of one of the mid-19th century cisterns was proven during the event. It was pressed into use along with the old pumping engine to save the building. The City's renewed efforts to secure ownership and begin to improve the water works company were successful at about the same time. By now, there were 29 miles of pipe, 231 double hydrants, and pressure capability of 60 to 100 pounds.

Chief Brockwell resigned, effective August 1, 1914, to become the State's first Fire Marshal. Charles D. Farmer was named Chief of the Raleigh Fire Department. Chief Farmer had been one of the first paid firemen and also previously a volunteer fireman.

Professional Department's Second Phase

Of the second phase of the professional Department's history the 1944 writers recalled:

A motor [pumper] purchased in July, 1914, was delivered in 1915 [November that year], the Raleigh Fire Department, by this addition, becoming completely motorized as the old Walter R. Womble Hook and Ladder Truck and the L.A. Mahler steam fire engine had been converted so as to be drawn by the motor apparatus.

[The department's first motor pumper was a 1914 American LaFrance Type 12 triple combination. It was equipped with a 100 HP, six-cylinder engine, and an 800 GPM pump. The truck was placed in service as Hose Company 1. The two motor hose cars were assigned to Hose Company 2 and Hose Company 3, and the horse team at Station No. 3 was placed in reserve. Also that year, the old fire alarm bell was moved from Metropolitan Hall to the roof of the tower at Station 1.]

It was with a feeling of profound regret that the people of Raleigh, many of whom had served with them, saw the last horse leave the fire station at Hargett and Blount Streets. Little has been written about these fine animals, but these horses were an integral part of the activities of the Raleigh Fire Department in fires and in contests from 1887 until 1915. Removing the horse from the fire service took 'something'-- maybe of more or less sentimental value-- but still 'something' away from the service which has yet to be replaced.

In February, 1916, the motor-propelled aerial truck was delivered. [The American LaFrance "tiller" truck cost $11,500, and was equipped with a two-section wooden aerial ladder. The ladder was spring-raised, unlike modern hydraulically-lifted ladders.] Again, as in the 'eighties' when the old ladder was installed, new interest in safety of life was emphasized and the Raleigh [Fire] Department, this also at the suggestion of Mr. Alexander Webb, purchased a watchman's clock and established stations in the several hotels and hourly inspections of the floors of these hotels were made by members of the Fire Department. This service, which was considered original and of extreme importance and value, was discontinued during World War I.

Chief C. D. Farmer and Firefighters, 1916

The Raleigh Fire Department in 1916, with completely motorized equipment, including the seventy-five foot aerial truck, their reputation as highly trained men and featuring fire prevention in all of its activities, was considered an outstanding Department. As such, they invited the North Carolina Firemen's Association to hold their Convention and Tournament in Raleigh [in July that year]. This was destined to be one of the largest such conventions, but the Western North Carolina flood interfered, preventing the arrival of the western companies. The convention was held and the tournament, without participation of the western companies, was conducted adjacent to Moore Square upon which a temporary drill tower had been erected and members of the Raleigh Fire Department demonstrated their ability in the use of ladders, pompiers and life belts to the visiting firemen. Another demonstration by the Raleigh Department at this time was reaching the top of the Citizens National Bank* via extension and pompier ladders and throwing water from the top of this building. The comparatively new 1,000 gallon pumper delivered a stream of water from the ground to the top of this building.* (Now NCNB Building)

A number of experienced men left the department in 1917 to join the armed forces in World War I and to enter shipyards and other war material-producing plants. The Raleigh Department, however, did not suffer serious manpower consequences, due to the custom, then, of allowing members of the armed forces stationed near Raleigh to occupy dormitories of the fire department. From Camp Polk came several experienced officers of large city fire departments, these including a Captain and several former members of the Buffalo, New York, department and several members of other large city departments.

[In 1918, a second American LaFrance pumper was delivered.]

Post-World War I Events

In 1919, Hubert H. Horton became [Fire] Chief. During his tenure the original 1912 trucks were replaced by new pumping engines and a city service truck. Raleigh's postwar population was 24,418; and 1920 annexations brought the area of the City to almost 7 square miles. An additional source of water was sorely needed; the City completed the Lake Johnson reservoir on Walnut Creek in 1923.

[Apparatus delivered during the early 1920s were four American LaFrance pumpers of model years 1922, 1925, 1926, and 1926. Also delivered during that decade was a 1922 American LaFrance service ladder truck. All five trucks were equipped with chemical tanks, which were used to extinguish small fires.]

Under Chief Lewis F. Hicks, appointed in 1923 to succeed Chief Horton, the two-platoon system went into effect August 4, 1924. This arrangement meant that the men were on duty ten hours a day for four days and fourteen hours a night for four nights. The Department at this time was made up of a Chief, two Assistant Chiefs, and 37 men.

By the mid 1920's, an estimated 10,000 new citizens had come into the city, necessitating employment of 16 additional firemen, purchase of two more pumping engines, and construction of two new fire stations. These were No. 4 at 505 Jefferson Street and No. 5 at 1914 Park Drive near Oberlin Road, both built in 1926.

[Station No. 4 opened on June 25, 1926. Station No. 5 opened on November 18, 1926. They were both single-company stations.]

[On November 20, 1924, the fire department responded to the town of Angier. They worked with the Fuquay Springs and Dunn fire departments to battle a blaze that destroyed four business. The Raleigh engine company traveled 27 miles of "rough road" in 55 minutes. This call for assistance was one of several answered by the fire department that decade. Their trips also included Clayton in 1926, Cary and Wake Forest in 1927, Louisburg, and Zebulon in 1928, and Apex, and Wendell in 1929.]

In that year, [Upon the death of Chief Hicks in August 1926,] W.E. [W. Ernest] Holland was named [Fire] Chief. He had been with the Department since 1913, and held the top position until 1939, when he resigned to become Assistant [Fire] Chief at Fort Bragg. Needing still more water, the City constructed a third pumping station in 1927 at Rand's Mill Pond on Swift Creek near Garner. Population growth continued; the 1930 census indicated a total of 17,379 in the City's area of 7.254 square miles.

[On July 3, 1928, hundreds of spectators watched as the renowned Yarborough House in the 300 block of Fayetteville Street burned. The four-story brick building, built in 1852, caught fire in the basement at the base of an elevator shaft. Flames quickly spread through the entire structure. Every member of the fire department responded, and with five pieces of apparatus. Durham and Smithfield also sent engines to assist. Over a half-mile of hose was used, and a total of 750,000 gallons of water was pump. There were no injuries, and only one piece of equipment was damaged, when an automobile ran over a ladder.]

The City Auditorium built in 1911 along with and adjacent to City Hall at Fayetteville and Davie Streets caught fire October 24, 1930, and burned to the ground in 1 1/2 hours. It is generally supposed that many municipal papers, including early Fire Department records, were lost in that fire. The Auditorium was replaced on another site by Memorial Auditorium, completed in 1932. During construction it was decided to include a fire station in the [rear of the] building. [Engine] Company No. 2 moved into this station from its location on Salisbury Street; the City maintained ownership of the older station, using it for other purposes.

Image Placeholder - City Auditorium Fire, 1930

Civil Service Commission

An important event of the mid 1930's is described in the 1944 recollections:

Following what many termed a 'hectic' municipal election in 1935, at the request of the entire representation of Wake County in the General Assembly of that year (Senator Carroll Weathers, Representatives Mitchell, Douglas and Thompson), and at the urgent insistence of the entire membership of the Raleigh Fire Department, Sherwood Brockwell, representing the Fire Department with Hon. John W. Hinsdale, former State Senator and representing the Raleigh Police Department, prepared a bill to 'create a civil service commission' for the firemen and policemen of Raleigh and, after receiving able assistance in preparing the bill from Messrs. Carroll Weathers and James H. Pous Jr., Messrs. Hinsdale and Brockwell explained, discussed and defended the bill as written before several civic bodies, organizations and groups, some of whom openly opposed and/or attempted to add provisions.

The bill, substantial as originally written for the firemen and policemen, was introduced in the General Assembly by Senator Carroll Weathers and enacted into State Law. The members of the first Civil Service Commission under the provisions of this law were: James E. Briggs, representing the Police Department; James H. Pous, Jr., representing the City Commissioners; Sherwood Brockwell, representing the Raleigh Fire Department; James M. Peden, representing the Chamber of Commerce and kindred organizations of Raleigh; and Miss Elsie Riddick. Representing the Women's Club and the Business and Professional Women of Raleigh. James H. Pou Jr. was elected chairman and Miss Elsie Riddick was elected Secretary.

Image Placeholder - Personnel and Equipment, 1936

In due time, the members of the Raleigh Fire Department became affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and organized the membership into Local Chapter No. 548 of the International Association of Firefighters [in 1938].

In 1936, the Raleigh Fire Department was again host to the North Carolina Firemen's Association and the convention in the new Memorial Auditorium was an eventful one, both for the Association and the Raleigh Fire Department. The tournament of 1936 was conducted on Oberlin Road near Fire Station No. 5.

Raleigh Chief as NCFA President

At that convention, [Fire Chief] W.E. Holland was elected President, the first Raleigh Fire Chief to hold that position in more than 45 years. He was succeeded as Raleigh [Fire] Chief on May 10, 1939, by Ellis D. King.

[Also that year, the 1916 American LaFrance aerial ladder was refurbished and received a 1939 American LaFrance tractor. Three years earlier, a 1936 American LaFrance pumper was purchased. Those were the only pieces of fire apparatus purchased in the Thirties.]

[In 1938, the tower at Fire Station No. 1 was removed. For years, the city had wanted to demolish the tower. It had been several inches off-center for years. The cost of demolishing was considered cost-prohibitive, but was done for free by a contractor working on an addition to the adjacent Revenue Building. By removing the tower, the alley was widened and the contractor's work trucks could enter. The 1870 alarm bell which was located atop the tower was eventually donated to State College, where it served as a school bell on the roof of Withers Hall.]

According to the 1940 Census, the Raleigh Fire Department was now serving 46,897 citizens. In that year the Department of Public Utilities completed a filter plant on the Old Fayetteville Road, which included the pumping station delivering water to the City. This facility is still part of the system serving Raleigh today.

[In 1940, the North Carolina Fire Fighters Association held its first convention in High Point. The group was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Capt. K. J. Smith was elected the first president. Also that year, Fire Station No. 1 on W. Morgan Street was declared unsafe for occupancy by the city. The station would be moved and the building demolished the next year.]

W. Ralph Butts was appointed [Fire] Chief July 14, 1941, and served through the war years, until 1947.

World War II

Of the first two years of World War II the writers recording the Department's history in 1944 stated:

Raleigh, keeping its fire department abreast of the times, following an election (1941) extending the city limits made preliminary plans for broad expansion of this Department, this to include several new fire stations, extending the fire alarm system, increasing the number of firemen and more modern apparatus and had purchased property on which to erect two new fire stations when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

This, of course, altered all plans of expansion, but a temporary fire station, Station No. 6, was opened in the Budleigh Section in 1943 and a new house for the fire alarm system was completed in 1942. In the meantime, to make room for expansion of the State Revenue Department Building, the Fire Department Headquarters Station, erected in 1892 [1896], was abandoned and torn down, the temporary Headquarters being established in the station originally built on Salisbury Street to accommodate [Engine] No. 2.

[Since old Station No. 2 was too small to accommodate either the aerial ladder truck or the service ladder truck, both were relocated to Station No. 2 at Memorial Auditorium. Engine 2 was moved to the re-opened station on South Salisbury Street, and shared quarters with Engine 1.]

[Fire Station No. 6 opened on March 3, 1943, in a rented building at 2513 Fairview Road. It occupied one-half of a commercial property that formerly housed a soda shop. Engine 6 operated a newly purchased 1919 American LaFrance pumper that the city bought used from the town of Farmville. War-time restrictions impacted the purchase of new apparatus, as well as the construction of new buildings.]

[The property for a new Fire Station No. 1 was purchased on South Dawson Street. Though construction of the replacement fire station would be delayed for over ten years, a smaller building was soon built that housed the equipment of the fire alarm system. The "alarm house" was constructed with materials salvaged from the old Morgan Street fire station. The two-story brick building still stands today.]

With the outbreak of World War II, [Three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor,] representatives of the Raleigh Fire Department, on December 10, 1941, attended a meeting with firemen from practically all of the Fire Departments of the State in the House of Representatives in the State Capitol where they received instructions from the State Fire Marshal and Conductor of the North Carolina Fire College and Drill School [Sherwood Brockwell], who had just returned after graduating from the school conducted by the United States Army at Edgewood Arsenal, and returned to their duty with these added responsibilities.

The Raleigh Department at once commenced a program of training auxiliary firemen and in this line of endeavor Captain J.M. Burnette and Lieutenant J.B. Keeter, with the assistance of other members of the Fire Department and Officers of the local OCD have rendered valuable service.

[In July 1942, 154 auxiliary firemen received certificates of training and arm bands in a ceremony at Hugh Morson High School. They were trained in firefighting and rescue techniques, and participated in exercises including city-wide blackout drills through 1944. That year the state was exempt from further drills.]

[During the War, military plane crashes were experienced in and around Raleigh. On November 10, 1941, an A-24 dive bomber crashed at Raleigh Airport. On August 9, 1942, a twin-engine bomber crashed at the airport, killing three people and injuring six. The fire department was not called to either incident. They responded to some crashes outside the city, including a pair of Army pursuit planes that crashed three miles south of Raleigh on Garner Highway on October 29, 1943, and a B-17 bomber that crashed five miles southeast of Raleigh in Garner on May 9, 1944.]

The ranks of the Fire Department had been thinned by the demands of war. Ten of its staff had served in the Armed Forces and approximately 30 had taken jobs critical to the war effort. New apparatus was not available because of the need to supply the Armed Forces. The Fire Department had to make do with what it had for the duration of the war.

Image Placeholder - Above: 75 Foot Aerial Ladder, 1942

Image Placeholder - Below: Other Equipment and Personnel, 1942

[In 1944, the first "auxiliary fire truck" was placed in service. This unit was a pick-up truck equipped with a pump and water tan, and other equipment. It responded to smaller fires, such as grass or automobile fires. It also responded to calls outside the city. The truck was totaled and firefighters H. S. Stephenson and R. R. High were seriously injured when the squad truck collided with a Greyhound bus in 1947.]

On the resignation of Chief Butts in 1947, [Asst. Chief] A.B. Lloyd, who had joined the Fire Department July 26, 1919, became Chief [of the Department. He was appointed acting Fire Chief that year, and was permanently appointed in 1950]. He served until his death in 1955. During Chief Lloyd's tenure, three new stations were built to replace older structures. (These will be named subsequently.)

Council Manager City Government

Raleigh voters in 1947 adopted the Council Manager form of municipal government, with all departments (including the Fire Department) answerable to the first City Manager, Roy S. Braden. Serving that year as members of the Policemen's and Firemen's Civil Service Commission were A.V. Anderson, Banks Arendell, E.J. Kuetter, J.C. Little, Jr., and Elsie Riddick, who was still serving as Secretary.

The Fire Department, as described in the June 1948 report on the first year of the Council Manager government, consisted of the Chief, an Assistant Chief, 51 firemen, and three women P.B.X Operators." Responding out of six fire stations were six pumpers, two ladder trucks, and two fire cars. Manager Braden considered the Department "badly undermanned, under-equipped, and poorly housed," but announced plans underway for improving fire stations, adding apparatus, and increasing manpower. This report also noted that of the 816 fire alarms turned in during the year, "79 were FALSE and 45 were unnecessary." The report cautioned, "The citizens of Raleigh must realize that the department cannot operate efficiently with so many unnecessary false alarms, and we must realize that a false alarm can easily be the means of causing accidents and deaths. Every effort is being made to have this practice stopped." The addition of 15 fire hydrants brought the total number in the City to 897. During the 1940's, the Department started putting increased emphasis on fire prevention. The 1948 report noted that 'in schools, civic clubs and other places, the doctrine of fire prevention was presented by moving pictures, lectures, printed circulars, and house-to-house inspections, accomplishing a great deal."

[In 1948, a trial period started for 24-hour shifts. The schedule was later adopted as permanent. Also that year, a 1948 Ford "auxiliary truck" was purchased to replace the "squad truck" destroyed the year before.]

The City's most tragic fire to date, in terms of lost lives, was the February 1, 1948 blaze that killed a family of five when the Carolina Country Club burned.

[The early-morning fire struck during the height of a raging snow storm. By the time firefighters arrived, about ten minutes after receiving the 3:35 a.m., the roof had already collapsed. The deceased family members were sleeping in a club apartment]

The permanent building for Station No. 6 was completed in 1949 at 2601 Fairview Road at the Oberlin Road intersection, designed as a two-company station. [The new station opened on June 25, 1949. Truck 6 was placed in service two days later with the 1922 American LaFrance service truck.] It was at this time that the City purchased its first fire [new] pumper[s] since the beginning of World War II, [a 1949 FWD and] a 1950 Mack.

[Also that year, the Fire Prevention Bureau was formed in August 1949. It was led by Capt. J. M. Burnette.]

Rapid Growth

Raleigh's slow but steady growth had begun to accelerate at a more rapid pace during and following the war. In an area of 10.883 square miles, 20,000 persons had come into the City, bringing the total to 65,679 as reported in the 1950 census. The Fire Department was also growing in numbers, with 83 personnel on its rolls in that year. Fire-fighters' duty hours were 24 hours on and 24 hours off at this time. This schedule meant that each was on duty 84 hours per week.

Firemen moved into the new Station No. 3 in the summer of 1951. This station, at 13 South East Street, was built at a cost of $35,000 to replace old [Station] No. 3 that had stood at the corner of Blount and Hargett Streets since the 1890's. The new two-story brick structure was to house one of the two American La France pumpers delivered at about the same time, with the other one going to Station No. 5.

[Also in 1951, a Ladies Auxiliary to the Raleigh Fireman's Association was formed. The organization consisted of firefighter's wives. They performed many activities during the 1950s and 1960s, including bringing coffee and sandwiches to fires.]

A part of Fire Department history vanished the following year when old [Station] No. 3 was acquired by Carolina Motor Sales Company and demolished to make room for a used car lot. [Built in 1898, the two-story station originally housed the horse-drawn, volunteer Victor Fire Company.] During the demolition, former [Fire] Chief Sherwood Brockwell told a News and Observer reporter that the building had been the first Raleigh station house which vehicles could enter from the rear and exit forward.

Image Placeholder - New Fire Station Six, 1949

[Also in 1952, an accident on Lewis Farm Road severely injured Driver Vernon J. Smith. Engine 6 was operating a reserve 1926 American LaFrance when it overturned on a sharp turn. The four others firemen aboard were also injured: Capt. J. T. White, J. T. Wall, H. E. Partin, and A. R. Woodlief. While they recovered from their injuries, Smith lost his leg. He returned to light duty and worked as a switchboard operator and radio dispatcher. He also underwent 29 operations between 1952 and 1956, the year that he died from his injuries. He passed away at Rex Hospital on November 14, 1956. He was the first line-of-duty death in the Raleigh Fire Department.]

Image Placeholder - New Central Station, 1953

New Headquarters

A new headquarters fire station [at 220 S. Dawson Street] was completed in October 1953 and the fire department "moved in," fulfilling a long-time dream since losing the 1892 [1896] building on West Morgan Street. This building located at 220 South Dawson Street was constructed next to the remaining portion of the old 1892 Union Railroad Depot. Headquarters had spent 13 years in temporary quarters [in old Station No. 2] at 412 South Salisbury Street. The cost of the new Station No. 1 was $122,000.

[The two-story station included three bays, each long enough to hold three vehicles. The downstairs area included a kitchen and dining area; the upstairs was equipped with dormitory areas and offices for both Fire Administration and Fire Prevention.]

In October of the same year, the old Steamer that had served Raleigh so well from 1887[1905] until 1915, was pulled by two horses down Fayetteville Street once again to commemorate Fire Prevention Week. The old hose reel was also pulled by hand in the parade.

[Two more American LaFrance pumpers were also delivered in 1953.]

[In the summer of 1954, a five-story brick training tower was completed off Highway 15-A South, now South Wilmington Street. The previous training tower was demolished in 1941 along with the rest of old Station No. 1 on West Morgan Street. Training had also been conducted at Memorial Auditorium, outside Station No. 2. The exterior of the auditorium building was designed for use as a drill tower.]

On the death of Chief Lloyd in 1955, J.B. Keeter was named new Chief of Raleigh's Fire Department. Chief Keeter had joined the Fire Department in 1931 and had been promoted through the ranks to Assistant Chief in 1952.

For a number of years, beginning at Station No. 1, in November 1955, Sunday School Classes were held in Fire Stations Nos. 1, 5, 7, and 9. These classes were assisted by a number of area churches. Another event of 1955 was formation of the Wake County Firemen's Association on November 23.

[The four charter members of the Wake County Firemen's Association included Fire Chief Jack Keeter.]

Radios, Rescue Squads

Under Chief Keeter, two-way radios were installed on all equipment with the base station being located in the Dispatcher's Room at Headquarters Station. [in 1955. The following year, Raleigh began dispatching some volunteer fire departments in the county. A two-way radio network was installed in the county with assistance and funds from the local office of Civil Defense. In 1957, two-way base stations were placed in all fire stations. Radio watch was started at all stations, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Each watch period was two hours.] This was initially, and is today, a valuable tool to the fire service. Previously, when apparatus left the station on a fire run or whatever, it was out of service until it returned to quarters. Two-way radio keeps the company in service ready to respond to an alarm regardless of its location. For fire inspection, pre-fire planning, or when traveling to and from fires, constant contact can be maintained with the apparatus.

Also under Chief Keeter's direction, the Raleigh Rescue Squad, Inc. was established to contribute an essential service to the citizens of Raleigh. The fire department today maintains two Rescue Units, located at Stations No. 6 and No. 7, to assist at fires or any emergencies that arise where they are needed.

[The rescue squad was charted in August 1953 as an organization comprised of firefighters and civilians, but was eventually operated exclusively by the fire department. Two firefighters were initially assigned to the 1954 GMC panel van that carried basic first aid equipment and that could also be used to transport patients. A second piece of apparatus, a 1954 Reo Civil Defense truck, was obtained with the assistance of the federal government. Equipment carried on the Civil Defense rescue truck included torches, power saws, gas masks, and helmets.]

[In 1957, a second FWD pumper was delivered, and placed in service as Engine 4. In 1958, a new American LaFrance aerial ladder was placed in service at Station 1. Equipped with a 100-foot, hydraulically raised metal ladder, the tractor-drawn apparatus was a great improvement over its 75-foot, hand-raised wooden predecessor. Another American LaFrance pumper was also delivered that year.]

Station No. 7, the new station added to serve the northeast portion of Raleigh, was completed at 2100 Glascock Street and occupied in 1959. The building, a one-level brick station, marked the beginning of the end for the traditional firemen's pole that had been used in two-story fire stations for so long. All Raleigh stations built since then have been of the one story class.

[Growth in the Sixties]

Raleigh continued to grow, with 20 annexations adding almost 8 square miles during the 1950's, bringing the total size to 35.763 square miles occupied by 93,931 citizens. On April 1, 1960, the Fire Department began utilizing a rented structure on Kent Road as temporary quarters for Engine No. 8. These quarters served the newly annexed Western Boulevard area until a new station could be built. [This building is still standing and is presently addressed 1007 Method Road.]

[Two GMC/Alexander tankers were placed in service at Station No. 2 and Station No. 8 in 1960. Each carried 1,500 gallons of water. Also that year, the second service truck company was placed in service at Station No. 7.]

In 1960 [1961] the original structure that had served as Station No. 5 at Oberlin Road and Park Drive since 1926 was demolished and a new modern building constructed on the same lot.  This is a two-company station. Three [Two] new American La France pumpers were purchased and delivered in 1961 to enhance Raleigh's firefighting capabilities.

[Firefighters performed the demolition of Station No. 5 themselves, and saved the bricks to build a training building at the drill tower. An American LaFrance ladder truck was also delivered in 1961, and placed in service at the new Station 5 as the city's second aerial truck company.]

Reporting for duty on February 14, 1963, was the first black member of the Fire Department since abandonment of volunteer companies in 1912. Chief Keeter indicated at the time that he was looking for additional qualified blacks to apply and that others would be hired. Others did follow and have been assigned to positions throughout the ranks of the Fire Department.

[By 1964, eight African-Americans had joined the Raleigh Fire Department.]

The year 1963 saw three new stations constructed and occupied. The new Station No. 4, located at 2913 Wake Forest Road, replaced the old No. 4 of Jefferson Street which had served the City since about 1925 [1926]. Station No. 8, located at 5001 Western Boulevard, replaced the former rented structure on Kent Road. To serve the North Hills area, Station No. 9, which is an additional, not replacement station, is located at 4465 Six Forks Road. Three stations cost an average of approximately $63,000 each. A 1964 GMC [service ladder] Truck is now in service at Station No. 8.

[Each of the new fire stations cost approximately $63,000. Station No. 8 also included a 4,500 square-foot basement with two vehicle bays. It was for storing apparatus and equipment.]

The Fire Prevention Bureau, now Codes and Standards Division, was enlarged to 6 full time personnel in 1963. This step was taken to permit more frequent inspections throughout the City and more presentations of programs on fire education and fire awareness to citizens of the community. While Fire Prevention is a year-round effort now, Fire Prevention Week Activities still add a little more meaning through national media attention during that special week in October. During Fire Prevention Week in 1963 and 1964, contests were held between Raleigh and Winston Salem Departments and between Raleigh and Durham Departments in 1965 and 1966. The winner each year was the City with the lesser amount of fire damage during Fire Prevention Week. The Raleigh Department won in each of the four years.

[In August 1964, firefighters built a smokehouse next to the drill tower. The small building, which still stands today, was used for smoke training. It was constructed using the brick from the original Station No. 5.]

[On December 2 of that year, a major fire at Cameron Village Shopping Center was extinguished with the assistance of a foam generator brought to the scene by a salesman. The city subsequently purchased a foam truck, which was housed at Station 1. Cameron Village owner Willie York bought a second foam truck, which he donated to the city, and which was housed at nearby Station 5.]

[During the month of February 1965, firefighters responded to several small fires at State College. The string of suspicious fires concluded on February 22 with the destruction of Pullen Hall. A nearby girl's dormitory, Watauga Hall, was evacuated as hot embers struck the roof. Peele Hall was also damaged. During the fire, a second blaze was spotted and extinguished in the basement of Brooks Hall. An 18-year-old former student later admitted to setting it and seven other fires.]

[The Raleigh Fire Department experienced its second line-of-duty death on April 20, 1965. Driver Paul A. "Pallie" Mimms collapsed while operating Engine 5 at an early-morning fire. He was transported to Rex Hospital, and pronounced dead on arrival. Mimms had been a fireman since 1951, and was buried at Montlawn Memorial Park.]

Firemen's Club

The Raleigh Firemen's Club, Inc., was organized in September 1968. John Hester was named president; A.R. Woodlief, Vice-president; Ned K. Perry, Secretary; L.T. Frazier, Treasurer; and Ellis Beasley, Sergeant at Arms. Among early accomplishments was completion of a clubhouse on a tract of land off Six Forks Road, approximately 9 miles from the North Hills Shopping Center. It is still active today as the Firemen's Club, serving its membership.

Firemen moved into the new Fire Station No. 2 at 263 Pecan Road on October 16, 1969. Men and apparatus were relocated to the new quarters from the rear of the Memorial Auditorium where the station had been since completion of the Auditorium in 1932. Also built onto this station was [a second building for] the maintenance garage for the Fire Department, employing three full time mechanics whose responsibilities are to keep the fire apparatus in order.

The report for the fire department in 1969 indicated that the Fire Department consisted of 169 men including 133 Firemen and 36 Company Captains. Nine Stations housed the 10 engine companies and four ladder companies operating on the two-platoon system. Each man worked 24 hours during his assigned shift, with an average workweek of 66 hours. The Fire Prevention Bureau that year reported presenting some 175 fire safety programs to schools, hospitals, and civic groups, while distributing nearly 30,000 pieces of literature aimed at encouraging fire safety practices.

[That year, Local chapter 548 of the International Association of Fire-Firefighters was re-charted. They renamed their organization Raleigh Firefighter's Association Local No. 548. The first officers were Ned Perry, B. T. Fowler, and Maylon Frazier.]

Residency Rule, Work Week

In February 1969, the City Council changed the residency rule that had required Raleigh firemen to live within the City limits; firemen were now permitted to live anywhere in Wake County, with the stipulation that they reside on a paved road and that their telephones are connected to the Raleigh exchange. The City reduced firefighters' workweek from 66 to 60 hours in September 1970. This was the second reduction within a year for firemen, the first having reduced it from 72 to 66 hours per week. The present 56 hours per week represents a total reduction from 84 hours in 1950.

[The reduction in February 1970 from 72 to 66 hours required the addition of 24 people: six captains, seven drivers, and 11 firefighters. The reduction in September 1970 from 66 to 60 hours required the creation of a third platoon, "C" shift. Both were the result of changes in United States labor laws.]

The 1960's decade added 25.137 square miles to the City with 67 annexations bringing the total area to 43.763 square miles and the population to 122,830. Two new stations completed in 1971 helped to meet the growing City's growing needs: No. 10 at 2711 Sanderford Road and No. 11 at 2925 Glenridge Road. These are both two-company stations. Three new Mack fire pumpers (two 1970 and one 1971) were acquired and put into service, as well as a [service] ladder truck mounted on a 1971 Chevrolet chassis, the latter being in service at Station No. 11.

[Truck 11 was the city's third service truck company, and last "service ladder" company to be placed in service.]

Massive Reorganization

As part of a massive reorganization of Fire Department administration, Chief Keeter named on August 7, 1971, seven District Chiefs. These included D.H. Williams (the only one of the seven still active in 1984), W.B. Hamilton, R.E. Keith, W.R. Mabrey, N.W. Walker, C.T. May, and S. J. Talton.

[The district chiefs were placed in service as Car 5 at Station 1 and Car 6 at Station 4. The reorganization resulted from a survey of the fire department conducted by North Carolina League of Municipalities Director of Services and future Raleigh Fire Chief Sherman Pickard. It identified deficiencies in administrative, management, supervisor, and service functions, and recommended a reorganization that included reducing the Assistant Chiefs from three to two, moving the Assistant Chiefs to day duty, organizing the department into three divisions, creating the position of District Chief, and the restructuring of inspection positions.]

For many years [decades], the Raleigh Fire Department operated its own dispatching and switchboard service with its own employees. In February 1972, the City of Raleigh/Wake County Emergency Communications Center was established. The planners designated 829-1911 as the common number for everyone within Wake County, in anticipation of the nationally designated number 911 which became available January 26, 1982. This is the number used by most emergency services in Wake County.

[The fire alarm system was retired in May 1973, after the last box alarm was received on May 14. The system was dismantled, and the equipment was sold as surplus the following year. It included 250 alarm boxes, 13 gongs, four tape registers, and one repeater. Purchasers included the towns of Henderson, Lexington, and Thomasville.]

Chief J.B. Keeter retired in June 1973 after 42 years in service. To succeed him, City Manager William H. Carpenter appointed a veteran fire-fighter who also rose through the ranks, former Assistant Chief C.R. Puryear. A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Chief Puryear had been in Raleigh for 44 years.

Raleigh's fire department continued to grow in stations and apparatus. During Chief Puryear's tenure three new stations were dedicated: No. 12 on Poole Road, No. 14 on Lake Boone Trail, and No. 15 on Spring Forest Road. During 1974 the City acquired four new Mack pumpers.

[Also in 1974, two Chevrolet/Murphy ambulances were placed in service as Rescue 1 and Rescue 9. They replaced the 1966 Chevrolet panel van, and were soon moved to Station 6 and Station 7. Also that year, the second engine at Station 1 was renumbered Engine 13. It was originally named Engine 9, then Engine 10, and then Engine 15.]

[In 1975, the fire department received new rescue boats. Two 14-foot aluminum boats and trailers were donated by Jeffries Auto Marina Service. The lightweight boats replaced the heavier wooden craft used since the 1950s.]

It came as a real shock to the fire service when Chief Puryear, Chief for just 17 months, died in November 1974 of an apparent heart attack. The Chief was 55 years old and veteran of 33 years in the Fire Department.

Rufus E. Keith, a native Wake Countian, was chosen by City Manager L.P. Zachary to succeed Chief Puryear. Chief Keith, as had his predecessor, had come up through the ranks. He had joined the Fire Department in July 1951 and had served in all ranks including Training Officer.

Other officers were promoted to District Chief positions and the presently used three-district system was instituted [in 1977] to replace the former two-district system that had been in effect since 1971. Four additional Mack pumpers were ordered and delivered during the year 1975.

Image Placeholder - Committee For Rescue Truck, 1952

[In October 1976, nine Captains positions were announced as being eliminated as part of 60 job cuts city-wide. The positions were eliminated from the three service ladder companies.]

Image Placeholder - Emergency Rescue, 1955

EMT and First Responder Programs

It was in 1976-1977 that Raleigh instituted the Emergency Medical Technician Program and the First Responder Program. Special training of instructors for the EMT program was first; then came long hours of special training for all firemen. Raleigh participated in a pilot program sponsored by the International Association of Fire-fighters and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

The First Responder emergency system in 1977 mandated that the nearest fire engine to an emergency responds to every call from within the City involving a life-threatening situation. All responding vehicles carry personnel trained as Emergency Medical Technicians.

[After the training, a pilot program was started with Engine 3 in early 1980. The First Responder program was expanded city-wide on April 1, 1980. Some 270 firefighters were licensed as Emergency Medical Technicians.]

Delivery of the first platform aerial truck by Mack was made in 1977. This 75-foot platform truck, costing $175,000, has excellent capabilities for fire-fighting and rescue. A 1978 Mack pumper was purchased and delivered in 1978.

Training of Fire Department officers to conduct in-service inspections of all types of occupancies began in February 1978, including pre-fire planning. This is now an on going, effective effort by all officers and companies.

Eight women joined the Raleigh Fire Department in June 1978 as Raleigh's first female fire-fighters.

Station No. 16, at 5526 Leadmine Road, opened to serve the public February 9, 1979, with one pumper and one ladder truck assigned to it.

[Also that year, the position of First Class Firefighter was created.]

[The Eighties]

During the decade of the 1970's, 72 annexations added 10.933 square miles to the City, enlarging Raleigh's size to 54.696 square miles and her 1980 census count to 150,255 persons. Two additional truck companies were placed in service following delivery of a 1980 [service] ladder truck on a Ford chassis and a [1979] Mack truck [tractor for the "tiller"]. Another Mack pumper was purchased and delivered in 1981; and two Mack pumpers in 1982.

[The 1958 American LaFrance aerial ladder was refurbished in 1980, and equipped with a new 1979 Mack tractor. Also that year, the 1963 Ford service truck (Truck 7) was rebuilt on a 1980 Ford chassis. It was damaged in a vehicle accident in the prior year.]

[The two Mack CF pumpers delivered in 1982 were the last purchased by the fire department. They and the earlier Mack CF pumpers remained in service for decades.]

[Another major change for emergency services in Raleigh and Wake County was the activation of 911 as a county-wide emergency number on January 26, 1980. The city-county Emergency Communications Center was located on the first floor of the Municipal Building on Hargett Street.]

The year 1981 brought a major program of the Department into service. This was the expansion of inspections of places of public assembly, including entertainment establishments. This program was designed to assure continued compliance with Fire Prevention Codes in buildings where large numbers of people congregate.

[In 1982, Brush Truck 1 was placed in service using a 1965 International chassis. Four years later, three new brush trucks-- named mini pumpers-- were purchased by the fire department, and placed in service at three fire stations. The next year, Light Truck 1 was placed in service using the old 1966 Chevrolet rescue truck.]

Keeter Training Center

In May 1982, the 7,000-square-foot Keeter Training Center was completed. A bronze plaque on the wall of the foyer indicates its dedication to the memory of the former Fire Chief. The center is located at 105 W. Hoke Street, where the Department's training tower had been constructed 28 years earlier, in 1954.

[The training center was constructed beside the 1954 drill tower and 1964 smoke house. It was dedicated to former Fire Chief and Mayor Pro Tem Jack B. Keeter.]

Chief R.E. Keith announced his intention to retire in November of 1982. At the request of City Manager Zachary, he stayed on as Chief until a successor was appointed. For the first time in Raleigh's history, the Chief's position was opened to persons outside the Raleigh Fire Department. Thomas T. Kuster became Chief of the Department February 1, 1983.

[Chief Kuster was a 22-year veteran and former chief of the Louisville Fire Department.]

In June 1983, the Department initiated its Home Inspection program with a goal of inspecting or offering to inspect every residence in the City. Special emphasis is being placed on home fire drills, smoke detectors, and protection of invalids.

Hazardous materials of many kinds are presenting problems throughout the country as they are involved in wrecks, derailments, and spills. Equipment, apparatus, and special tools have been acquired and training is being conducted to prepare Firemen to deal with potentially serious incidents involving hazardous materials.

[In late September 1982, the Fire Marshal began compiling a list of hazardous chemical storage areas in the city. This followed a September 13 chemical fire in Charlotte that forced 1,000 people from their homes.]

[On April 15, 1983, the District Chief cars were renumbered. Car 4 at Station 9 became Car 51, Car 5 at Station 1 became Car 52, and Car 6 at Station 6 became Car 53.]


Within the first half of the decade of the 1980's, 43 annexations brought 6.552 square miles into the City, increasing the total area protected by the Raleigh Fire Department to 61.248 square miles. The population as of July 1, 1984, was estimated at 172,198. A few weeks earlier, the City's sixteenth fire station, No. 17 on Pleasant Valley Road, was opened.

[In March 1984, fiberglass helmets replaced the traditional plastic helmets. The new helmets were color-coded by rank. Chiefs wore white, captains wore yellow, truck company firefighters wore black, and engine company firefighters worse red. In June 1984, the first haz-mat unit was placed in service at Station 2 with a 1977 Chevrolet panel van. In July 1984, an honor guard was organized to pay tribute to Lt. Harold Faison, who died off-duty. In November 1984, a sand truck provided by the public works department was placed in service as Station 8. It was operated by firefighters, and special called for such purposes as absorbing fuel spills and providing traction on icy surfaces.]

Kept in readiness for service are the following units and equipment as of August 1984: 17 engine companies, 3 truck companies, 3 service companies, 2 rescue units, 2 water tankers, 1 light truck, 2 foam units, 1 brush truck, 1 fuel truck, and 1 hazardous materials truck. The Department's 291 fire-fighters include 81 officers-- Chief, Assistant Chiefs, Training Officers, Company Officers, and Fire Prevention Officers. There are 13 women in fighter positions. In addition, 19 persons are employed in administration, 6 in fire prevention, and 3 in the mechanics division

Today's modern, progressive Fire Department stands in readiness to protect the City of Raleigh. The Fire Department is prepared in all phases of Fire Protection Service and continually puts forth efforts to improve these services. Raleigh Fire Department has met the challenge of the past and now accepts the challenge of the future to provide the best possible service to the citizens of the City of Raleigh.

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This page last updated November 18, 2010


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