Raleigh Fire Department Modern Volunteers

By Michael J. Legeros



On March 7, 1913, all of Raleigh's former volunteer fire companies were declared out of commission. They consisted of the Rescue Fire Engine Company No. 1, the Capital Hose Company No. 2, the Victor Fire Company No. 3, the Hook and Ladder Company, and the L. A. Mahler Steamer Company. Though a full-time, fully-paid Raleigh Fire Department had been in service since December 23, the Board of Alderman formally banned the volunteers from operating in the city with this ordinance: "That on and after this date all Volunteer Fire Companies and all members thereof are hereby put out of commission; and no Volunteer Company or member thereof shall be allowed to respond to any alarm of Fire, as an organization of the Fire Department of the City of Raleigh, or as a member thereof; no Hose Wagon, Engine, Hand reel, or other Fire apparatus of any Volunteer Fire Company shall be allowed to use the streets of the city in answering any Fire Alarm; nor shall any Volunteer Fire Department or any member thereof, or any person whatsoever not a member of Raleigh Fire Department connect any hose or other fire apparatus to any Hydrant, stand-pipes, or other hydrant connections in the city; that no Volunteer Fire Company or any member thereof shall be allowed to use at any Engine-House, Fire Station, or other building used by the Raleigh Fire Department; provided that the above ordinance shall not apply to factories, cotton mills, manufacturing plants, schools, or any organizations who may organize their own private fire department for the prevention of fire in their own buildings and shall keep their apparatus on their own premises and shall at all times be under the supervision and direct control of the Chief of Raleigh Fire Department." The regulation also noted any person violating the ordinance would be subjected to a $25.00 penalty.

Auxiliary Firemen

Volunteer participation in the Raleigh Fire Department continued in later decades, beginning with the auxiliary firefighter program established after the United States entered World War II in 1941. Volunteer members received training related to wartime firefighting and rescue operations. Government-issued training materials of the time listed auxiliary firefighter training topics as fire streams, ladder work, forcible entry, ventilation, pump operation, salvage and overhaul practices, blackouts, bomb identification, and decontamination.    

On July 12, 1942, graduation ceremonies were held at Hugh Morson High School and 154 auxiliary firemen received certificates of training, arm bands, and Civil Defense stickers. State Fire Marshall and former Raleigh Fire Chief Sherwood Brockwell appeared and spoke, along with Frank Daniels, chairman of the Wake County Defense Council; Professor Earl H. Hostetler, local Citizens Defense Corps Commander; Robert Powell, local Commissioner of Public Safety; and Raleigh Fire Chief W. R. Butts.


To help train the auxiliary firefighters as well as prepare for the opening of Fire Station 6, a 1919 American LaFrance Type 75 pumper was purchased at auction from Farmville, NC. The auxiliary firefighters assisted in actual emergencies, such as helping to remove dozens of residents when flames swept the roof of the Wake County Home for the Aged and Infirm on East Whitaker Mill Road on July 7, 1943. And like the volunteer companies of decades past, Raleigh's auxiliary firefighters also held competitions such as the tournament conducted on Morgan Street on August 21, 1942. Teams from Station 1 and Station 5 competed in two races between Boylan Avenue and Snow Street.


City-wide blackout drills were conducted during this time, with sirens signaling the start of the exercises. All residential, street, and business lights were required to be switched off until the "all clear" signal was given. During the drills, both regular and auxiliary firefighters would respond to simulated incidents such as imaginary explosions and fires. Apparatus would drive at no more than 15 miles per hours, and no equipment would be unloaded.  

On June 16, 1943, over 105 auxiliary firemen participated in a blackout drill as well as five "regular firefighters" on vacation at the time. Nine practice runs were made during the 48-minute drill: Engine 1 to a Salisbury Street hotel; Engine 6 to the Flatiron Building at Glenwood Avenue and Fairview Road; Truck 1 to the Raleigh Building; the reserve 1,000-gallon pumper to Washington High School; Engine 5 to the Little Theatre; Engine 2 to a cleaning firm on Fayetteville Street; Engine 4 to Lewis School; Engine 3 to a motor company on South Blount Street; and the reserve pumper to the old Negro Blind Institute.


On August 25, 1944, a barbecue was held on the grounds of Memorial Auditorium for both regular and auxiliary fire department members. The department's understaffing was noted and the auxiliary firemen were surveyed for their availability to answer "extreme emergency calls" and serve as "volunteer firemen to answer general calls if needed." By the late 1940s, the auxiliary firefighter program was discontinued.


Ladies Auxiliary


In 1951, an auxiliary to the Raleigh Fireman's Association was formed. On May 21, a meeting was called of some 41 firefighter's wives by Association President W. E. Pollard for purpose of forming a ladies auxiliary. Temporary officers were elected: Ellie Pollard, President and Louise Parker, Secretary. On June 18, the auxiliary elected and installed permanent officers: Ellie Pollard, President; Hazel Matthews, Vice-President; Louise Parker, Secretary; Louise Johnson, Treasurer; Louise High, Chaplain; and Mary Alice Foy, Sergeant-at-Arms. Permanent officers were installed on June 18 by Mrs. Ernest W. Howard, President of the Ladies' Auxiliary of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The charter contained the names of 43 charter members.


Some of their initial activities included taking magazines, stationary, and shaving supplies to veterans in one of the state's veteran's hospitals each week. They also adopted the Jackson Building girls at the Methodist Orphanage and treated them to holiday activities as well as celebrating their birthdays. Fundraising during those first years included selling Christmas cards, selling wax, and sponsoring a Stanley Party to sell Stanley Home Products. On October 5, 1953, auxiliary members conducted an open house at Station 1 on the day of its dedication.


In later years, the auxiliary served refreshments at fire scenes. Members of the Coffee Committee responded to a pre-dawn apartment fire at 323 Hillsboro Street on September 16, 1961. "The stacks of sandwiches went down fast [as] all off-duty firemen had been called in [and] so there were quite a few on hand" reported the Women's World column in the following day's Raleigh Times. Notified by the dispatcher at Station 1, the six Coffee Committee members met at Station 6. The first one to arrive started a big urn of coffee, while others opened cans of meat that were stored in a special cabinet. They made dozens of sandwiches to take to the scene, along with cups, plates, napkins, and a case of bottled drinks.


The Coffee Committee disbanded later that decade. The Ladies Auxiliary was still holding meetings as late as 1978. A second group of firefighter wives formed a similar group in the late 1990s, though they have since disbanded.


Rescue Squad


Also in the early 1950s, the volunteer Raleigh Emergency Rescue Squad was organized. The impetus for the group came after both the police and fire departments were criticized for the delay in extricating a driver pinned under a truck on Hillsboro Street. Criticism also came after a drowning in the Neuse River several miles from Raleigh. The body was not recovered for a week until City Manager W. H. Harper asked Captain Jack Keeter to help however he could. Along with Assistant Chief Lee Matthews, civilian Bob Biggs, and future police officer Andy Povlosky, the four borrowed a fishing boat from one man, a boat motor from another, and transported the items to the river in Keeter's pick-up truck. The four launched the boat, and Povlosky and Matthews rode around until finding and recovering the body. Later, a Red Cross course was conducted with about 25 firefighters and civilians attending.


The Raleigh Emergency Rescue Squad was formally chartered on August 27, 1953. The Wake County Office of Civil Defense allocated $2,500 for a rescue truck and a 1954 GMC panel van was purchased. Local businesses donated money and materials to outfit the van. Squad members also designed and built a boat trailer and the city provided the funding for two boats and two motors. The rescue squad responded both in the city and in the county, though only provided patient transport when an ambulance was not available. They were particularly helpful during the period between when area funeral homes stopped providing patient transport and when private ambulance services started operating.


Though the Raleigh Emergency Rescue Squad was organized as a volunteer agency, Captain Keeter persuaded the city to designate two firefighters as rescue officers. Harold Jones and Roma Wilder were appointed as such and sent to a rescue school in Maryland for further training. They worked opposite shifts and operated the rescue vehicles, pulling a second man off one of the companies at Station 1 when they needed assistance. The volunteer members were subject to call, though they mostly participated in body recovery efforts in local lakes and rivers. 


In addition to the panel van, a second piece of apparatus was obtained with the aid of the federal government. A 1954 Reo Civil Defense rescue truck was placed in service, though with a requirement that the truck be considered a piece of "stand-by equipment" that could be called to Norfolk, Virginia in the event of an "attack by enemy forces." Equipment carried on the 2.5-ton truck included torches, power saws, gas masks, helmets, and first-aid equipment.     The heavier rescue truck was rarely utilized, however.

Wake County also provided $100 a month for the rescue squad and the funds were used for the rescue officer's insurance and any needed materials. Both vehicles and the boat trailer were stored at Fire Station 1 on South Dawson Street. By 1972, the number of dedicated personnel had expanded to four firefighters. In 1974, a second Raleigh rescue squad was placed in service. The units were still funded by both the city and the county at that time, though they rarely performed patient transport. Funeral homes and later private ambulance services transported patients, though the rescue squad helped fill the gap in the early 1970s between when funeral homes stopped transporting patients and the private ambulance services started. The squads were also utilized to transport firefighters and firefighter family members as needed. After the formation of Wake County EMS in 1976, the squads served as back-up units when no Wake EMS ambulances were available. The squads served as back-up units through the late 1980s.


Fire Explorers


In October 1985, Raleigh Fire Explorer Post 108 was organized. For a number of years, the program was based at Station 15. A vocational program by the Boy Scouts of America with sponsorship by the Raleigh Fire Department, it allows youths aged 14 to 21 to learn about a career in firefighter through active participation in job tasks. Explorers attend regular meetings at different fire stations and learn about various aspects of firefighting and the Raleigh Fire Department. After a probationary period, members are issued uniform shirts. They are allowed to visit working and major working fires and can participate in such activities as carrying air bottles and rolling hose. They are also allowed to visit fire stations and can assist with such regular duties as cleaning, maintenance, and checking off of apparatus. They are prohibited from performing dangerous activities, however, such as interior fire suppression. The Explorer Post also has both business and fire officers, the latter consisting of a Chief, Division Chief, two Battalion Chiefs, six Captains, six Lieutenants, and, when applicable, a Training Officer and Safety Officer(s).


Photo Unit


In 1991, a Raleigh Fire Department Photo Unit was formed. Members responded to Code 2 and Code 3 fires, as well as other notable incidents. Records of the responding companies were maintained along with photographic negatives. By the mid 1990s, membership in the photo unit had dwindled to a single person with Lee Wilson assigned the role of official fire department photographer. He was issued a pager and is dispatched to all major working fires. He also responds to working fires and other notable incidents. Lee also provides photo coverage for non-emergencies such as ceremonies, receptions, and training events. 


Barry's Cafe


In 1994, restaurant owner and operator Barry Doyle began delivering food and refreshments to fire and emergency personnel on scene both in Raleigh and Wake County. He responded from Barry's Cafe located at the intersection of Holly Springs Road and Tryon Road in Cary, and for a period of time utilized a converted 1961 Chevrolet / Howe pumper formerly operated by the nearby Swift Creek Fire Department. In 1998, he started the non-profit Feed the Firefighters Foundation to further the mission of supplying food to fire, rescue, and law enforcement personnel in emergency situations. In 2004, Assagio's in Fuquay-Varina became the second Feed the Firefighters station, and is also available to supply emergency food as needed.




In 2004, Raleigh's first Community Emergency Response Team was organized. Sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the program educates citizens on disaster preparedness and provides training in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations. About 18 volunteers comprise the team. The concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department (LAFD) in 1985.


Two years later, after the Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 confirmed the need for training civilians to meet the immediate needs of fellow citizens, LAFD created the Disaster Preparedness Division with the purpose of training citizens and private and government employees. In 1993, the training was made available nationally by FEMA. Training for community groups is typically delivered in seven weekly 2 1/2-hour sessions. The session topics are Disaster Preparedness, Disaster Fire Suppression, Disaster Medical Operations Part 1, Disaster Medical Operations Part 2, Light Search and Rescue Operations, Disaster Psychology and Team Organization, and Course Review and Disaster Simulation.




Three other organizations have been associated with the Raleigh Fire Department beginning with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 548, chartered in 1938. At the time of February 4 application, the Temporary President was K. J. Smith and the Temporary Secretary was R. G. Davis. The application included the names of 21 charter members. The chapter was re-chartered in 1969. At the time of the June 10 application, the Temporary President was Ned Perry, the Temporary Vice-President was B. T. Fowler, and the Temporary Secretary and Treasurer was Maylon Frazier. The application included the names of 173 charter members. The chapter was re-chartered a second time in 1986. At the time of the March 23 application, the Temporary President was James Driver and the Temporary Secretary and Treasurer was Donnie Perry.


Another professional organization, the Wake County Fireman's Association, was formed on November 23, 1955. Fire Chief Jack Keeter was one of four charter members along with Gordon Keith Jr. of Cary, Bob Heater of Cary, and Carter Schaub of Apex. Chief Keeter first served as the First Vice President. The Raleigh Fireman's Club was organized on February 2, 1968. The first officers were John Hester as President, A. R. Woodlief as Vice-President, Ned K. Perry as Secretary, L. T. Frazier as Treasurer, and Ellis Beasley as Sergeant-at-Arms. In 1977, members constructed a club building on nine wooded acres near Falls Lake. The Fireman's Club building has served a variety of functions over the decades, ranging from hosting private functions for club members to serving as worship space for the New Jerusalem Church. All three organizations continue to operate to this day.





Auxiliary Fireman, 1942

Auxiliary Firemen Handbook, 1942

Blackout Notice, 1943



1919 Pumper Purchased in 1942

Ladies Auxiliary Members, 1961



Ladies Auxiliary Serving at Fire Scene, 1962

Rescue Members Receive Red Cross Cards, 1953



Raleigh Emergency Rescue Squad, Panel Van

Raleigh Emergency Rescue Squad, Rescue Truck





CERT Training, December 2004


Fire Explorers, December 2005



1961 Chevy Pumper Owned by Barry's Cafe






Appendix A


Table of contents of A Handbook for Auxiliary Firemen, published by the United States Office of Civilian Defense in 1942:



Special Problems

Uses of Rope

Tools and Appliances

Extinguishers for Small Fires

Forcible Entry


Fire Hose

Ladder Work

Fire Streams

Pump Operation

Salvage and Overhaul Practices

The Incendiary Bomb


Warning System

What to Do, Air Raid (Home)

Magnesium Bomb, pictorial

War Gases

Gas-Tight Room


Citizens' Defense Corps

Manual of Drill


Appendix B


Table of contents of Introduction to Community Emergency Response Teams, published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency:   


Family and Workplace Preparedness

CERT Organization

CERT Size up

Introduction to Fire Safety

Fire Hazards in the Home and Workplace

Safe Fire Suppression

Introduction to Special Situations

Hazardous Materials Safety

Terrorism and CERT

Introduction to Disaster Medical Operations

Treating Life-Threatening Conditions

Conducting Triage

Establishing Medical Treatment Areas

Patient Assessment and Treatment

Disaster Psychology

Introduction to Light Search and Rescue

Search Operations

Rescue Operations

Course Summary




City Minutes, March 7, 1913.


Citi Notes, June 15, 1952.


CERT Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.training.fema.gov/emiweb/CERT/certfaq.asp
[ Web address subsequently changed, new address not yet known ].


CERT Overview, http://www.training.fema.gov/emiweb/CERT/overview.asp
[ Web address subsequently changed, new address not yet known ].


Feed the Firefighters Home Page, http://www.feedthefirefighters.com.


Oral histories.


News & Observer, various issues.


Raleigh CERT Home Page, http://www.raleigh-cert.org.


Raleigh Fire Department History, http://www.legeros.com/ralwake/raleigh/history.


Raleigh Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary scrapbooks.


Raleigh Fire Explorers Home Page, http://www.mindspring.com/~rfdexplorers.


Raleigh Professional Firefighters Association records.


Raleigh Times, various issues.

United States Office of Civilian Defense, A Handbook for Auxiliary Firemen, 1942.




Created February 11, 2006. Updated July 12, 2008.


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