Raleigh Fire Department History



Two fire companies protecting 0.625 square miles and 4,518 residents.


Fire destroyed more than 17 structures on Fayetteville, Hargett, and Wilmington Streets. Reports the December 17 edition of The Raleigh Register: "Appalling Conflagration. About half past 12 o'clock, on Monday morning last, our citizens were alarmed by the cry of Fire, and the other signals used on such occasions. The wooden tenement on Fayetteville Street, occupied by H. A. Depkin, as a Boot and Shoe Store, was found to be in a blaze, but not to such an extent that it might not have been promptly suppressed did we possess the most ordinary water facilities. In a very few moments, the destroying element extended itself, in one direction, to the residence of Wm. White, Esq., and the City Post office connected therewith, and in the opposite, to the Confectionary Store of Mr. Griffice and the Saddlery Establishment of C. W. D. Hutchins, Esq., and to many small wooden buildings in the vicinity-- all of which were entirely consumed. The flames now spread so rapidly as to render any efforts to check them entirely impotent. The large and splendid brick structure on the corner of Fayetteville and Hargett streets, (in which were Harding's Clothing Rooms, Creech's Merchandise Store, the N.C. Mutual Insurance Co., and the Telegraph Offices, and the Odd Fellows Lodge,)the new and beautiful building of Mr. Fenress above the Post Office, the row of small shops on the north side of Hargett St., (with the exception of Mr. Holleman's,)and several brick buildings occupied as Stores on Salisbury street, were in turn consumed, before the devastating flames spent themselves. Their further progress up Fayetteville street was arrested by the timely blowing up of Mr. Roulhael's store. Read essay about the fire (PDF). (December 15, 1851)reg17dec51

Intendant W. Dallas Haywood held an emergency meeting of the City Commissioners to address the city's firefighting capabilities. His suggestions:

  • Bring water into the city, if possible, from "some creek or branch." Or, if impractical, consider an artesian well.
  • Immediately provide large cisterns or reservoirs of water.
  • Improve and increase the number of public wells.
  • Replace the present wooden pumps with metal pumps.
  • Provide additional fire equipment for the city.
  • Repair the fire engines. (December 16, 1851)reg(sw)20dec51

City Commissioners adopted as ordinances the recommendations of a committee investigating fire protection improvements:

  • Public wells be deepened and widened, as necessary.
  • Additional wells be sunk, as necessary.
  • Metal forcing pumps be substituted for present wooden lifting pumps.
  • Committee be appointed to investigate the construction of cisterns or reservoirs.
  • Both fire engines be repaired, and kept repaired.
  • Additional fire equipment, including hose, ladders, hooks, axes, be obtained.
  • Kegs of blasting powder be kept on hand.
  • Engine and guard house be constructed immediately on Market Square. The building should be brick, and fireproof.
  • Fire department be more efficiently organized.
  • Chief of the Fire Department be appointed.
  • Committee be appointed to investigate the sinking of an artesian well.
  • Borrowing $1,000 for the purpose of the above recommendations. (December 19, 1851)reg(w)24dec51


The fire engines are reported as one repaired, and one preparing to be repaired. Additional hose is reported as purchase, and additional ladders, fire hooks, and axes have been ordered made. (January 22, 1852)reg(sw)28jan52

City Commissioners order several changes:

  • reconstruction of several public wells, and the installation of metal forcing pumps with fixtures for attaching fire hose.
  • construction of four fire cisterns on Fayetteville Street, and of a capacity not less than 3,000 gallons each.
  • construction of a one-story brick building, 18x40 feet, on the Market Square, to be used as a guard house and engine house.
  • appointment of a Superintendent of the Fire Department, who will supervise all aspects of the fire department
  • immediate reorganization of the fire department. (February 7, 1852)reg(sw)11feb52

First salaried Fire Chief appointed by City Commissioners. Seymour W. Whiting, a member of the City board, is elected. His salary is $100 a year. His firefighters continue to serve without pay as either volunteers or draftees. Position is discontinued less than two years later. (February 14, 1852)reg(sw)18feb52

City Commissioners pass ordinance authorizing the annual organizing of three fire companies, and the duties of the Superintendent:

That the Intendant shall forthwith (and hereafter during the month of January in each and every year)take the necessary measures in pursuance of the Act of the General Assembly for 1826-27, for organizing three fire Companies. Two of the said Companies to consist of forty men each, and the other of twenty. The first two to be known as Fire Companies, No. 1 and 2, and the other as the Hook and Ladder Company.

It shall be the duty of the said companies to meet at such time and place for exercise and inspection as may be directed by the Superintendent of the Fire Department, who shall give notice thereof to the Captains of the respective Companies, [and] whose duty it shall be to cause notice to be given to their respective members; and in case any officer shall fail to give such notice, or to appear at such time and place without a good or sufficient excuse for such failure, he shall be subject to a fine of ten dollars for every such default, and in case of failure by a private member to appear, he shall be subject to a fine of one dollar.

It shall be the duty of the said companies upon the alarm of fire, to proceed at once to the Engine House and thence, with their respective machines, to the fire, where they shall be under the entire control and direction of the Superintendent of the Fire Department, and in case of Fire, if any of the officers of the said companies shall fail to appear, or appearing shall refuse to obey any order of the Superintendent or shall absent himself from his duty for his company shall be discharged by the superintendent, he shall be subject to a fine of Twenty dollars for every such default, or if [the absent person is] a private member [they will be subject] to a fine of five dollars for every such default, and if [the absent person is] an officer [they] may be removed from his office by the Board of Commissioners.

It shall be the duty of the Captain of each Company to keep a roll of the members of his company, which roll shall be called whenever the company may be ordered out for exercise, and also at every fire, after [the time that] the Superintendent shall have discharged the Companies from duty. And it shall be the duty of the Captains to return to the Superintendent a list of the members absent, or who being present refuse to perform their duty, [and] which [as a] report, together with a list of absent officers, the superintendent shall lay before the Board of Commissioners, [and] who shall cause the delinquents to be notified, and unless good and sufficient excuses are rendered, shall confirm the fines herein before named, and direct the same to be collected at their next regular meeting thereafter, and to be paid into the City Treasury.

It shall be the duty of the Superintendent to be present at each meeting of the Companies for exercise, and at every fire; and to take the entire charge and direction of said Companies at such fire; to inspect the Engines, Hooks and Ladders, etc., and report to the Board any neglect, injury or abuse of the same; to recommend such alteration or repair as he may deem necessary to the Board of Commissioners; and especially to see that there is at all times a full supply of water as far as the means of the city will permit. The Superintendent of the Fire Department shall be appointed by the Board of Commissioners and shall receive an annual compensation of one hundred dollars, and may be removed from office at any time for incompetence or neglect of duty.

In case of fire it shall be the duty of the Intendant of Police to attend and take charge of the Police Department. In case of the removal or exposure of property, he shall detail a sufficient number of citizens, not members of the Fire Department, who shall constitute an auxiliary police force, whose duty it shall be, under direction of the Intendant, to guard all exposed property, and detain all suspicious and disorderly persons, and do whatever may be lawfully done to protect the rights of citizens and preserve the public peace. (by February 18, 1852)reg(s)18feb52

Fire Company No. 1 organized. Members include citizens drafted, due to insufficient number of volunteers. The officers:

  • D. Royster, Jr., Captain
  • W. D. Ashley, 1st Lieutenant
  • E. S. Ligon, 2nd Lieutenant
  • D. C. Murray, 3rd Lieutenant
  • William White, Jr., Secretary
  • Lynn Adams, Treasurer. (February 28, 1852)reg(sw)03mar52

Hook & Ladder Company organized. The officers:

  • T. H. Snow, Captain
  • Mr. Ruffin, 1st Lieutenant
  • Isaac Proctor, 2nd Lieutenant
  • J. D. Cameron, Secretary and Treasurer. (March 3, 1852)reg(sw)06mar52

State Capitol suffered fire. The 2:00 a.m. fire in the office of the Supreme Court is discovered by a watchman. Two tables and two or three chairs are destroyed. (Wednesday before April 21, 1852)reg(w)21apr52

Residence of L. O. B. Branch on Hillsboro Street burned. The 1:30 a.m. fire, believed started by a candle, destroys the recently constructed "large and elegant residence." (Sunday before April 28, 1852)reg(sw)28apr52


Two new hand engines purchased, named Excelsior and Rescue. The Baltimore Sun on March 21, 1853, reported that their city's hand engine builder William Simpson had shipped one a short time ago to Raleigh, both a "suction engine" and a hose carriage. The engine had a seven-inch clynder and "was finished in a most beautiful style." yb84, reg(sw)10mar52

Fire Company No. 1 renamed Excelsior, after new hand engine. (by March 27, 1853)reg(sw)27mar53

Fire Company No. 2 renamed Rescue, after new hand engine. (by August 26, 1853)reg(sw)27aug53

First provisions for storing fire equipment are made when construction finally started on additions to the Market House authorized by City Commissioners in 1849 and located on Fayetteville Street, at site of present Wachovia Bank Building, 227 Fayetteville Street Mall. Twenty-five by forty foot building is built, facing Wilmington Street, for a "guard house, fire engine house, and office for the Intendant of police." wch


Courthouse office burned. Fire is reported about 9:00 p.m. in the Clerk of County Court's office. The flames are extinguished but not until a number of books and valuable official papers are destroyed. Clerk of Court Thomas J. Utley is severely burned after he and Sheriff William H. High fight the flames. (January 17, 1856)reg(sw)19jan56, ncstan(sw)23jan56

Cooley residence on Fayetteville Street burned. The morning fire is prevented from spreading by the late-arriving fire company, which has an ample supply of water from the nearby cistern. (February 25, 1856)ncstan(sw)27feb56

Fire Company No. 1 organizes with the following members:

  • R. S. Tucker, Captain
  • Frank Pizzini, 1st Lieutenant
  • Seaton Gales, 2nd Lieutenant
  • Thomas H. Briggs, 3rd Lieutenant
  • J. N. Bunting, 4th Lieutenant
  • W. H. Laughter, Secretary
  • William White, Jr., Treasurer.

The young men organize a "complete volunteer unit" whose members agree to a "minimum of three years' service." They later choose a uniform "consisting of a red flannel shirt, black pantaloons, leather hat, and black leather belt." In less than three months, "an almost total lack of support and interest" forces "abandonment of the scheme." (February 27, 1856)wch, ncstan(sw)01mar56

Three fire companies are reported as organized with two [engine] companies and a hook and ladder company "taking steps to protect property against fire." (March 12, 1856)ncstan(sw)12mar56


City limits extended for first time with corporate limits extended one-fourth of a mile in all directions.no26apr42


Twenty-one wells throughout city are supplied by pumps. (March, 1858)wch

Special city ordinance prohibits merchants from keeping more than one keg of powder in their stores. Another decrees "no liquors shall be allowed in any [fire] engine or other house belonging to the [fire] department, or at any fire." yb84


[AA]   Aircraft accident
[AI]   Apparatus incident
[EF]   Early fire
[HM]   Haz-mat incident
[MA]   Mutual Aid
[MF]   Major fire
[RA   Railway accident
[TF]   Tanker fire
[TR]   Technical rescue
[UD]   USAR deployment
[UF]   Unusual fire
[UI]   Unusual incident
[WE]   Weather event


ar   City of Raleigh Annual Report
bd   City of Raleigh budget documents
cvh   Cameron Village: A History 1949-1999, Nan Hutchins, Sprit Press, 2001
cad City of Raleigh Auditor's Office
ccm / cm   City Council Minutes / City Minutes
ccor   1792-1892, The Centennial Celebration of Raleigh, NC, Kemp D. Battle, Edwards and Broughton, 1893
cer   Chief Engineer's Report
dah   North Carolina Department of Archives and History
dahni   North Carolina Department of Archives and History News and Observer index
fp   City of Raleigh Fire Protection Study
hr   Historical Raleigh with Sketches of Wake County and its Important Towns, Moss N. Amis, 1912
oh   Oral History
mjlr   Mike Legeros records.
mp   Morning Post
nc   North Carolinian
no   News and Observer
noi   News and Observer Index
pb   Peter Brock
pph   Pullen Park History
rla   Raleigh Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary scrapbooks
rpu   Raleigh Fire Department Photo Unit records
rr   Raleigh Register
rt   Raleigh Times
ruh   Raleigh: An Unorthodox History
yb84   Raleigh Fire Department 1984, Raleigh Fire Department, Taylor Publishing, 1984
yb02+   Raleigh Fire and Rescue: 1984-2002, Raleigh Fire Department, Taylor Publishing, 2002, plus additional historical information also compiled by the Raleigh Fire Department around 2002.
wch   Wake: Capital County of North Carolina - Volume 1, Prehistory Through Centennial, Elizabeth Reid Murray, Capital County Publishing, 1983


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